In Honor of John” Jack” BOGLE–The MAN who opened financial markets for ordinary people


January 26,2019

In Honor of John” Jack” BOGLE–The MAN who opened financial markets for ordinary people

John Bogle, who founded Vanguard and revolutionized retirement savings, dies at 89

DAVID SWANSON / Staff

John C. Bogle, 89, who revolutionized the way Americans save for the future, championed the interests of the small investor, and railed against corporate greed and the excesses of Wall Street, died of cancer Wednesday at his home in Bryn Mawr, his family confirmed.

 

Mr. Bogle, a chipper and unpretentious man who invited everyone to call him “Jack,” was founder and for many years chairman of the Vanguard Group, the Malvern-based mutual-fund company, where he pioneered low-cost, low-fee investing and mutual funds tied to stock-market indexes. These innovations, reviled and ridiculed at first, enabled millions of ordinary Americans to build wealth to buy a home, pay for college, and retire comfortably.

Along the way, Vanguard, which Mr. Bogle launched in 1974, became a titan in the financial-services industry, with 16,600 employees and over $5 trillion in assets by the end of 2018, and Mr. Bogle earned a reputation as not only an investing sage but a maverick whose integrity and old-fashioned values set an example that many admired and few could match.

 

“Jack could have been a multi-billionaire on a par with Gates and Buffett,” said William Bernstein, an Oregon investment manager and author of 12 books on finance and economic history. Instead, he turned his company into one owned by its mutual funds, and in turn their investors, “that exists to provide its customers the lowest price. He basically chose to forgo an enormous fortune to do something right for millions of people. I don’t know any other story like it in American business history.”

Like Perelman, Mr. Bogle carved a remarkable path. In 1999, Fortune named Mr. Bogle one of the investment industry’s four giants of the 20th century, and in 2004, Time listed him among the 100 most influential people in the world.

 

Motivated by a mix of pragmatism and idealism, Mr. Bogle was regarded by friends and foes alike as the conscience of the industry and the sheriff of Wall Street.

 

“He was like the last honorable man, a complete straight-shooter,” said Rick Stengel, former managing editor of Time and former president of the National Constitution Center, where he worked closely with Mr. Bogle, who then chaired the center’s board. He was fond of saying that “‘so-and-so is all hat and no cattle.’ Jack was all cattle and not very much hat.”

More than a successful businessman, Mr. Bogle was a capitalist with a soul.

 

John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group Inc., was chairman of the board of the National Constitution Center in 2006 when he stood beside one of his favorite signers, Alexander Hamilton, far left.
MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Inquirer File Photo
John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group Inc., was chairman of the board of the National Constitution Center in 2006 when he stood beside one of his favorite signers, Alexander Hamilton, far left.

“Whatever moral standards I may have developed over my long life, I have tried to invest my own soul and spirit in the character of the little firm that I founded all those years ago,” he wrote in his 2008 book, Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life.

 

While Mr. Bogle was facile with numbers, he was much less interested in counting than in what counts, and his intellectual range was broad. He revered language, history, poetry, and classical wisdom, and frequently amazed and delighted people by reciting long passages of verse. He was the author of at least 10 books, mainly about investing — all of which he proudly wrote himself.

He was a social critic, civic leader, mentor, and philanthropist whose generosity to the institutions that shaped his character, notably Blair Academy and Princeton University, far outstripped his legendary frugality.

n his 70s, he displayed the energy of men half his age, and his pace and ambition were the more remarkable because of his lifelong battle with heart disease, the result of a congenital defect that affected the heart’s electrical current.

Mr. Bogle had his first heart attack in 1960, when he was only 30, and his heart stopped numerous times thereafter. When he was 37, his doctor advised him to retire. Mr. Bogle’s response was to switch doctors.

Mr. Bogle outlived three pacemakers, and kept a gym bag with a squash racket by his desk. In 1996, surgeons at Hahnemann University Hospital replaced his faulty heart with a strong one, ending a 128-day wait in the hospital. He reunited with his doctors years later. With his new pump, Mr. Bogle experienced an adolescent surge of vitality that left associates panting to keep up.

“Jack operated at only two speeds, as fast as is humanly possible and stop,” said Paul Miller, the late private investor and founding partner of Miller Anderson & Sherrerd, who was a close friend of Mr. Bogle’s for decades.

 

Bogle with Ed Rendell (left) and President Bill Clinton (right) in Philadelphia about 20 years ago. He said of the economy:
Bogle with Ed Rendell (left) and President Bill Clinton (right) in Philadelphia about 20 years ago. He said of the economy: “The disparity in income is deeply regrettable. I don’t know what we do about it exactly.”

 

“He was fiercely competitive when it counted, more intellectually alert than any person I’ve ever met, willing to face — indeed, almost court — controversy and criticism, stubborn but willing to compromise when absolutely necessary, and most importantly, loving, sentimental, kind, charitable, and courageous.”

 

 

His greatest accomplishment, Mr. Bogle often said, was “putting the ‘mutual’ back in mutual funds.” His most important innovation was the index fund.

Mr. Bogle had long argued that a mutual fund representing a broad range of businesses — for instance, the Standard & Poor’s 500, an index containing the stocks of 500 large publicly held U.S. companies — would not only match the market’s average return but also generally surpass the performance of actively managed funds.

 

“You want to be average and then win by virtue of your costs,” Mr. Bogle said. “Cost is a handicap on the horse. If the jockey carries a lot of extra pounds, it’s very tough for the horse to win the race.”

 

That philosophy attracted a following, including a group of grateful devotees who called themselves the Bogleheads, and convened annually to swap investment advice and pay homage to the man who had done so much to nourish their portfolios.

 

Vanguard founder John
Bogleheads.org
Vanguard founder John “Jack” Bogle signed copies of his book at the 2017 Bogleheads conference, Desmond Hotel, Philadelphia.

 

 

“What impressed me most about Jack was his humility and approachability,” said Mel Lindauer, a leader of the Bogleheads and coauthor of The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing. “His zeal for his mission of helping investors get a ‘fair shake’ was legendary. He worked tirelessly toward that goal, and his message never changed with the investing climate. The world won’t be the same without Jack. He was a true American hero.”

 

Mr. Bogle had hoped that the Vanguard model — “structurally correct, mathematically correct, and ethically correct” — would goad other investment firms to give customers a fairer shake. While index funds have become widely popular, Vanguard’s competitors often have been less than keen about following the company’s penny-pinching lead.

 

Nevertheless, Mr. Bogle, to use a pet phrase, “pressed on regardless.” After retiring as Vanguard’s chairman and CEO in 1996 and its senior chairman in 2000, he became president of the Bogle Financial Markets Research Center, quartered in the Victory Building on the Vanguard campus.

 

When he was not touting the advantages of the Vanguard mode of investing, Mr. Bogle, a self-proclaimed “battler by nature,” was lambasting his professional brethren for “rank speculation,” reckless assumption of debt, “obscene” multimillion-dollar paychecks, and golden parachutes, and saying they had abdicated their duty as stewards in favor of self-interested salesmanship.

 

The life size statue of John Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, is shown Oct. 20, 2005, at the headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Bogle, then 76, had written his fifth book, The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism.
Scott S. Hamrick / Inquirer File Photo
The life size statue of John Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, is shown Oct. 20, 2005, at the headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Bogle, then 76, had written his fifth book, The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism.

Along the way, Mr. Bogle attracted his share of critics. He was called a communist, a Marxist, a Bolshevik, a Calvinist scold and zealot, a holier-than-thou traitor and subversive who was undermining the pillars of capitalism with un-American rants.

 

Mr. Bogle characterized his pugnacious relationship with the financial industry as “a lover’s quarrel.” His mission, he said, was simple: to return capitalism, finance, and fund management to their roots in stewardship.

“He held our industry to a higher standard than it held itself, and I think a lot of people took umbrage at that,” said Arthur Zeikel, a former Merrill Lynch & Co. CEO who knew Mr. Bogle for decades.

 

“He never failed to mention, in speech after speech and talk after talk, that money managers had failed miserably to earn their high fees,” said Miller, the investment manager and longtime friend. “That he was correct in calling them the ‘croupiers at the gambling table’ did not endear him to the profession.”

 

“Simply put, Jack cared,” said William Bernstein. “He cared enough about his clients to personally answer their letters; he cared enough about his employees to be on a first-name basis with thousands of them, and to pitch in at the phone banks when things got busy; and in the end, he cared enough about his country that he spent much of his last two decades away from home tirelessly crusading against an increasingly elephantine and dysfunctional financial system.”

 

John C. Bogle, then chairman and president, Wellington Fund in 1974.

File Photo

 

John C. Bogle, then chairman and president, Wellington Fund in 1974.

John Clifton Bogle early realized the value of a penny. His grandfather, a prosperous merchant, founded a company that became part of the American Can Co., and Mr. Bogle’s early years in Montclair, N.J., were affluent. But the Great Depression eventually erased the family fortune. Mr. Bogle’s father, an improvident charmer, was ill-equipped to cope. The Bogles lost their home and were forced to move in with relatives.

 

 

Mr. Bogle was proud of the many jobs he held in his youth — newspaper delivery boy, waiter, ticket seller, mail clerk, cub reporter, runner for a brokerage house, pinsetter in a bowling alley.

 

“I grew up in the best possible way,” Mr. Bogle said in 2008, “because we had social standing — I never thought I was inferior to anybody because we didn’t have any money — but I had to work for everything I got.”

 

Mr. Bogle attended Blair Academy in northwestern New Jersey, where he blossomed academically. From there, he went to Princeton, which offered him a full scholarship and a job waiting tables in the dining hall. At first, Mr. Bogle floundered, and his low grades in economics, his major, almost cost him his scholarship. But he applied himself and slowly mastered the demands.

 

In December 1949, while leafing through Fortune, he happened upon an article about the embryonic mutual-fund industry, and Mr. Bogle developed the topic for his senior thesis.

 

Mr. Bogle produced a scholarly opus that proved to be a blueprint for his career. “The principal function of mutual funds is the management of their investment portfolios,” Mr. Bogle wrote. “Everything else is incidental…. Future industry growth can be maximized by a reduction of sales loads and management fees.”

 

The thesis earned Mr. Bogle a top grade, and he graduated magna cum laude. After he sent a copy to Walter Morgan, Class of 1920 and founder of the Wellington Fund, based in Philadelphia, Morgan hired Mr. Bogle. In short order, Morgan became Mr. Bogle’s mentor. In early 1965, when Mr. Bogle was only 35, Morgan anointed him his successor.

 

Headstrong and impulsive, Mr. Bogle arranged a merger with high-flying investment managers in Boston. For six go-go years, the partnership flourished, but when stock prices plunged in 1974, Mr. Bogle was fired.

 

Refusing to surrender, Mr. Bogle persuaded the board of Wellington to split from the management company that canned him and appoint him to administer the funds at cost, thereby saving a bundle in fees.

 

Inspired by the 1798 Battle of the Nile, during which Lord Horatio Nelson sank the French fleet, snuffing Napoleon’s dream of world conquest, Mr. Bogle chose the name Vanguard after Nelson’s flagship.

Image result for enough by john bogle

 

“I wanted to send a message that our battle-hardened Vanguard Group would be victorious in the mutual fund wars,” Bogle wrote in Enough, “and that our ‘vanguard’ would be, as the dictionary says, ‘the leader in a new trend.’ ”

Now one of the world’s largest investment-management companies, Vanguard vies with BlackRock and Fidelity Investments for the title of biggest mutual-fund group.

 

John Bogle, Vanguard

INQUIRER ARCHIVES

John Bogle, Vanguard

 

If Vanguard runs a tight ship, it’s a direct reflection of its founder. When traveling, Mr. Bogle usually took the train or flew coach. From the station or airport, he walked to his destination rather than taking a cab, or hailed a cab rather than riding in a limo, even in his 70s.

 

When he was president of the Constitution Center, Stengel regularly met Mr. Bogle for power breakfasts at one of Mr. Bogle’s favorite eateries, Benny’s Place at Fourth and Chestnut Streets. There, Mr. Bogle ordered his customary breakfast of two eggs over easy, fried potatoes, two slices of rye toast and coffee, all of which he consumed, Stengel recalled, in an “incredibly systematic” way. Price: $3.60. Said Stengel: “I often felt compelled to leave an extra tip so the waitress wouldn’t feel shortchanged.”

 

Bill Falloon, an editor at John Wiley & Sons, remembers when Mr. Bogle visited the publisher’s Park Avenue office for a marketing strategy meeting about Mr. Bogle’s The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.

 

Weary from the train trip, Mr. Bogle asked where he could catnap. There was no bed or couch, he was informed. Not to worry, Mr. Bogle said. Just find me a room.

 

“So he walked into this little office and pushed a chair over so its back was on the floor,” Falloon recalls. “And then he stretched out and put his head on the back rest.”

Before nodding off, Mr. Bogle issued instructions: “If anybody wonders what I’m doing, tell them I’m dead.”

 

Mr. Bogle’s children recalled growing up in a drafty house in Haverford where the thermostat was set low in winter and they piled into their parents’ bedroom on steamy summer nights because it was the only spot with an air conditioner.

 

John Bogle, Vanguard chief inside the corporate office in Chesterbrook in 1989.
Inquirer archives
John Bogle, Vanguard chief inside the corporate office in Chesterbrook in 1989.

 

“He wore the same wool ties and suits forever,” said son Andrew Armstrong Bogle. “He had no desire to be ostentatious, and he didn’t hang out with just investment titans. He was just as comfortable, if not more so, with someone whose cab he happened to get into, talking to people in the subway or to a waiter at the Princeton Club. He genuinely liked talking to people and hearing their stories.”

 

While Mr. Bogle may have been cheap in the transactions of daily life, he was remarkably generous in a grand way. For more than 20 years, he donated half his annual income to philanthropic causes, particularly those institutions that helped develop his mind and form his character.

 

At Blair, Mr. Bogle chaired the board of trustees, chose the headmaster, and helped finance the construction of several buildings.

 

“He was like a surrogate father to me,” said former headmaster Chan Hardwick. “He told me the most important thing in a relationship is trust, and trust is based on honesty. After he hired me, he said, ‘You’re going to make mistakes. There will be things you’ll do that you’ll wish you hadn’t, and things you won’t do that you’ll wish you had. If you’re honest with me, I’ll support you fully.’ ”

 

At Blair and Princeton, Bogle endowed the Bogle Brothers Scholarships, which enabled scores of budding scholars to further their education. His twin brother David died in 1995.

 

“He took chances on people because someone took a chance on him,” said Stengel. “Much of his own altruism stems from the fact that he was a scholarship kid.”

 

“It will surprise no one who knew Jack that he directed his support to financial aid and promoting community service,” said former Princeton president Shirley Tilghman. “He served his university on many occasions — from leading the Class of 1951 at its 25th reunion to advising the Princeton University Investment Co.”

 

Mr. Bogle’s philanthropy reflected his belief that to whom much is given, much is expected.

 

Two of his children followed his example of service in an obvious way. His daughter Barbara Bogle Renninger served on the board of the Gesu School in North Philadelphia, where she was also a volunteer math tutor; his son Andrew was a patron of Robin Hood, a philanthropic organization established by investment bankers and hedge-fund managers to alleviate poverty in New York City.

 

“When we were growing up, we were told that we’re very fortunate in so many ways and that we were expected to give back,” Andrew Bogle recalled. “We could choose our own way of contributing, whether it be time or money or just our thoughts, but we knew that the default option is that you’re going to give back.”

 

Disengaging himself from guiding Vanguard and forging a new role for himself was challenging for Mr. Bogle, who was dismayed by the rift that developed between him and the man he had groomed to succeed him, John J. Brennan. Mr. Bogle was incapable of retirement.

 

Although he played no role in managing Vanguard after 2000, he continued to show up every weekday, usually in suit and tie and shined shoes, to discharge his duties as president of the Bogle Financial Markets Research Center. He wrote articles, speeches, and books, answered questions from investors, granted interviews to reporters, and continued to cultivate and encourage members of Vanguard’s “crew” while keeping a three-person staff busy.

 

“In a lot of ways, the last decade, an extra decade of my life, has been the happiest of my life,” Mr. Bogle said in 2008. “I’m contributing to society. I’m doing what I want to do. I’m writing what I want and saying what I want, and I think my name and reputation, for whatever that’s worth, have been enhanced.”

 

Mr. Bogle wasn’t afraid to criticize his own index fund creation — which he wrote may have grown too large. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in 2018, he warned that the concentration of ownership created by indexing firms presented a threat to the markets.

 

Three index fund managers dominate the field with a collective 81 percent share of index fund assets: Vanguard has a 51 percent share; BlackRock 21 percent; and State Street Global 9 percent.

 

“Most observers expect that the share of corporate ownership by index funds will continue to grow over the next decade. It seems only a matter of time until index mutual funds cross the 50 percent mark. If that were to happen, the ‘Big Three’ might own 30 percent or more of the U.S. stock market — effective control. I do not believe that such concentration would serve the national interest,” he wrote.

 

Another institution that benefited tremendously from Mr. Bogle’s involvement was the Constitution Center, whose board he chaired from 1999 to 2007.

 

“Introducing the center to the nation with Mr. Bogle as chairman was a huge advantage,” said Joe Torsella, the center’s president at the time and now Pennsylvania treasurer. “It declared to the outside world that we were national and bipartisan, and aspired to the highest level of excellence.”

 

Mr. Bogle served on numerous boards during his career, including the board of governors of the Investment Company Institute, which he chaired in 1969 to 1970. He was also a fellow of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received honorary degrees from a dozen universities, including his alma mater, which also bestowed on him its highest accolade, the Woodrow Wilson Award, for “distinguished achievement in the nation’s service.”

In addition to squash, Mr. Bogle enjoyed tennis and golf, sailing, and summering at Lake Placid, N.Y. He kept his wits sharp by daily attacking the New York Times crossword puzzle, which he was known to complete in less than 20 minutes.

 

Mr. Bogle especially loved to write. Most recently, he published Stay the Course: The Story of Vanguard and the Index Revolution” (Wiley, 2018).

 

“I don’t think there’s an author who spent greater care on the words he chose,” said Falloon, the Wiley editor who worked with Mr. Bogle. “When he did a book, he was so meticulous; he’d rewrite and rewrite. He always went the extra mile to make sure there wasn’t a single person who could not understand what he was saying.”

 

Despite the heavy demands on his time, Mr. Bogle put his family first. When his children were growing up, he was almost always home for dinner.

“This was our time to talk to each other and find out what was going on in each other’s lives,” Andrew Bogle recalled. “Looking back now, I find it remarkable that he was able to work as hard as he did but still say, ‘This is a priority and what I’m going to do — be home every night.’

”Another family rite revolved around the Fourth of July, a holiday that evoked Mr. Bogle’s strong sense of patriotism. Children and grandchildren gathered at the family camp on Lake Placid. They sang patriotic songs (Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” was a favorite), and Mr. Bogle raised a toast to the country of which he was so proud.

 

“My dad may have seemed like a hard-charging businessman, but underneath there was real emotion and care and concern and empathy,” said daughter Barbara. “Even as he became more prominent, he did not change within the family. He remained a man without pretense and pomposity.

<“When he had the heart transplant, it changed him dramatically. He became much more connected to the family. He was very emotional, and teared up easily over things. He was literally reborn, and he really appreciated the chance of having a second go at life.”

 

“It’s about being a good husband, a good father, a good colleague, a good member of the community. Everything else pales by comparison. The accumulation of material goods is a waste — you can’t take them with you, anyway — and the waste is typified by our financial system. The essential message is, stop focusing on self and start thinking about service to others.

 

In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Bogle is survived by his wife, the former Eve Sherrerd, whom he married in 1956; children Jeanne Bogle England, Nancy Bogle St. John, Sandra Hipkins Bogle, and John C. Bogle Jr.; and at least 12 grandchildren.

A private service will be held next week.

 

“Towering intellectual inferno” : A daughter’s tribute to Syed Hussein Alatas


January 23, 2019

“Towering intellectual inferno” : A daughter’s tribute to Syed Hussein Alatas

"Towering intellectual inferno" : A daughter's tribute to Syed Hussein Alatas

Syed Hussein Alatas, a world renown sociologist and a Malaysian revolutionary thinker was also a kind, fair and no-nonsense father. – Filepic
TODAY marks the twelfth year after the passing of my father, Allahyarham Syed Hussein Alatas.

A world renown sociologist and a Malaysian revolutionary thinker, he was also a kind, fair and no-nonsense father.

He instilled in us children the values of hard work, persistence, honesty, integrity and service for a  ‘glocal’ society.

The latter is not an oxymoron. Rather, it is exactly what my father strove for—to identify the universal crises facing global society.

My father knew of the disease that was destroying Malaysian society. He informed leadership and the rest of society through his painstaking writings, by his reference to historical case-studies.

Image result for alatas on corruption

He predicted the disease of corruption that would destroy the cohesion any multi-racial society needs to thrive.

For Alatas, it was corruption ‘of the powerful’ or elite corruption. No matter what race, religion, historical experience or type of civilisation, corruption has been the cause for the decline and fall of societies throughout human history.

Some may say there is nothing revolutionary about the values that I attributed to my father. In the case of Alatas though, he was consistent in his criticisms for more than half a century. He ‘walked the talk’.

To my mind, this is an extremely rare quality. A majority of people worldwide rarely practice what they preach.

My father’s life though was all about setting an example by making sacrifices. For him, it was most important that he first set the right example for his family.

It would then naturally follow that he would be perceived as a genuine advocate of a morally dignified lifestyle.

This was a lifestyle of honesty and depth. Not one merely described by religious rituals decorated with a superficial display of piety.

I am proud to see today, that he has earned tremendous respect, merely by being true to his word and living an impeccable and simple life.

I constantly overhear conversations and read news about my father, that he should have been conferred a ‘Tan Sri-ship’, or ‘Tun-ship’, or even appointed a Minister.

Syed Hussein Alatas was never about this. For him, the value of one’s life is not determined by the number of awards received, titles conferred or positions attained.

Neither should one’s service for the nation be determined by whether one has a political position, be it an MP, Senator or Minister.

For Alatas, his toolbox was bare. All he was equipped with was his valuable mind. This unique quality is attributed to only a few prominent drivers of social change.

Like Alexander Herzen, Subhas Chandra Bose and Jose Rizal, his mind became sharper with age.

His penchant for speaking and writing about society’s problems increased with time. His conviction to educate all levels of society gained momentum, despite his failing health.

If there is one person who did not fear his mortality, it was Syed Hussein Alatas—because in life and in death, he remained satisfied that he was able to contribute, selflessly, for the greater good.

He also knew early on that he would not live to see the fruits of his efforts. And he was the embodiment of what is truly a morally upright gentleman.

Syed Hussein Alatas was an impeccably-patient man. He was not deluded into thinking that his works would be recognised while he was alive.

In one of his masterpieces, Intellectuals in Developing Societies, he outlined what a true intellectual is.

He wrote: “In countries like Malaysia, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Ceylon….and Lebanon, the sense of superfluousness may yet be overcome by forging one’s own public hearing where recourse to publication is still open.

“Being ignored by the bureaucracy and left out of public affairs may still be compensated for in this way. But only the very few would have the energy and patience to adopt this line of action—to swim against the tide”.

I quote another short paragraph penned as an autograph in his book “Modernization and Social Change”.

He presented this autograph to me on the eve of my leaving for the U.S. for my university education.

It reads: “To my daughter Munirah. Everything in life is subject to change. You, Munirah, will also go through it. When this happens, see that the central purpose of life remains intact. Do not allow the wave of change to drown your being.

“Float and swim against it. When you reach the shore then you will appreciate the value of the effort. Your loving father, Abah. (Singapore, 30 July, 1982).”

Till today, as a soon-to-retire adult, I am still moved to tears, by these words.

Syed Hussein Alatas never succumbed to metaphoric drowning, despite his unceremonial and unjustified politically – inspired“dismissal” as Universiti Malaya’s Vice-Chancellor, for example.

Even that episode in his life wreaked of corrupt politicking. The laughable irony is that despite being falsely accused of corruption, Alatas goes down in Malaysian history (as well as regional and global history) as the intellectual authority on corruption, cronyism and nepotism in elite politics.

Malaysians can be  proud to lay claim to a fellow citizen who has put Malaysia on the world map.

He did it tirelessly, with neither pomp nor pageantry. He predicted in the 1950s, that corruption would be the single factor that would culminate in Malaysia’s decline and fall as a progressive society.

It is no secret now that rampant corruption ended Barisan Nasional’s 61 year leadership.

It contributed to the racial and religious divide our society faces now. Many emerging economies and developing nations have become notorious for making headlines that expose their  kleptocratic leadership. Malaysia has now joined that embarrassing “hall of shame”.

As I continue to miss my father after 12 years, so will I continue to pay tribute to his priceless contribution to Malaysia.

As I encourage myself, I urge others to also continue in the struggle. It is my hope that our leadership does the same, by reading what he has written, by recognising the relevance of his analyses, by emulating his disgust for corruption and excessive waste, and by accepting the truth behind his rejection of the feudal mindset.

I miss you Abah.
January 23, 2019


* Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas is an academic at the National University of Malaysia (UKM), specialising in geopolitics. She is also an active member of the moderate Muslim group G25.

** The views expressed here are strictly of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Astro AWANI’s.

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KP Waran Passes On–R.I.P


October 14, 2018

KP Waran Passes On–R.I.P

 

Former executive editor of the New Straits Times KP Waran died today after a nine-month battle with cancer. This was confirmed by his wife, Sheila Singam, via a Facebook posting that was accompanied by a picture of a smiling Waran.

Image result for KP WAran

In another posting, she attached an NST news article on her husband’s demise which also detailed his many achievements, captioning it with “So proud of you, my husband”.

According to his former employer, Waran, 60, had over two decades of experience in the news and media industry and had covered conflicts in places like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Cambodia.

Bernama senior editor Jamaluddin Muhammad, who was with him covering the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, said Waran showed an exemplary character in facing difficult situations.

“He helped plan our dangerous journeys meticulously with the assistance of locals, paying particular attention to things like roadblocks, possible landmines and so on,” he said.

He recalled that the media veteran also refused to be intimidated by Serbs manning a roadblock who asked him to surrender film rolls that captured scenes of the conflict.

“He was not afraid to stand his ground when we were threatened by gun-toting Serbian troops over the film rolls despite the moment being a life-and-death situation,” Jamaluddin said.

Waran, he said, also provided constant guidance on the dos and don’ts during their time there, such as the need to always be aware of the surroundings and to always move in a zig-zag pattern in areas where snipers were anticipated.

Jamaluddin said the lessons he learned from Waran in Bosnia were put to good use when he was later sent to cover the Iraq war. Meanwhile, former colleagues paid tribute to Waran on social media.

Image result for KP WAran

“On behalf of The New Straits Times Press, I would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to the family of the late KP Waran on his demise today,” said Mustapha Kamil Mohd Janor, who is an NSTP board member and Media Prima Bhd executive director of news and editorial operations.

He pointed out that Waran served the newsroom as a journalist for the most part of his life, and contributed significantly to the operations of the newspaper.

Former NST journalist Roziana Hamsawi expressed sadness over his passing. “You were my favourite editor at the news desk. You made my years there bearable. Always kind to the stories I wrote. Always cool about everything. “Loved working with you! Rest in peace boss!” Roziana wrote.

Bernama

More Tributes to John McCain: A True American Patriot


August 28, 2018

Elephants in the Room

John McCain Was Always There for America

Remembrances of a hero the United States—and the Republican Party—will miss.

John McCain (R-AZ) prepares to greet supporters during a Veterans rally for U.S. Sen candidate and U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) at the American Legion Post on October 13, 2014 in Covington, Louisiana.  (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

John McCain (R-AZ) prepares to greet supporters during a Veterans rally for U.S. Sen candidate and U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) at the American Legion Post on October 13, 2014 in Covington, Louisiana. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

By Will Inboden

“There were giants in the earth in those days…” Genesis 6:4

A giant has departed from among us. With Sen. John McCain’s death on Saturday, our nation has lost a war hero, a statesman, and a patriot.

As an Arizonan, I grew up under the long shadow cast over our state by McCain. He may not have been a native son, but on moving there in 1981 he quickly embraced Arizona and we embraced him in return. The state and the man were made for each other: proud, independent, stubborn, free, and on occasion as prickly as the countless saguaro cacti that adorn Arizona’s southern landscape.

His first run for the House of Representatives in 1982 remains the stuff of Arizona political lore. Criticized during a primary debate for being a carpetbagger, McCain responded defiantly: “I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the first district of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.”

Even as a young conservative congressman in the vanguard of Ronald Reagan’s revolution, McCain built a close friendship with fellow Arizona Rep. Mo Udall, a liberal Democrat and senior House member who graciously mentored McCain despite their political differences. Displaying the loyalty and honor that were his lifelong traits, McCain in turn never forgot Udall, to the point of visiting him regularly in the veteran’s hospital even when the dying Udall was barely conscious and had been forgotten by the rest of his former colleagues.

McCain won election in 1986 to the Senate seat previously held by the iconic Barry Goldwater. McCain and Goldwater combined served 61 years in the Senate, each a pillar of the institution and each a pillar of Arizona. In particular, they wielded enormous influence on defense policy as both became chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee and both designed landmark defense reform measures while working tirelessly to strengthen and equip our military.

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Part of McCain’s greatness came from his sense of history. He venerated the past and felt a special duty to be worthy of the legacies he inherited. Whether in his own family Navy lineage as the son and grandson of admirals, in Arizona as the successor to the Goldwater Senate seat, and especially as an American who loved his country with abiding and unrelenting passion, the past captivated McCain. (Because of his devotion to history and national security leadership, we were honored to have McCain serve on the Statecraft Board of Reference for the Clements Center for National Security that I oversee at the University of Texas at Austin.)

McCain also carried forward the Reagan legacy on national security policy more than almost any other U.S. political leader. Like Reagan, McCain was a stalwart advocate for human rights and democracy, exemplified by his longtime chairmanship of the International Republican Institute. Like Reagan, McCain stood for a strong military, free trade, loyalty to our allies, and U.S. international leadership.

Like all giants, this treasure in an earthen vessel had his flaws. McCain could too often let political differences become personal, had a combustible temper, and was rarely guilty of excessive humility. Few Republicans, myself included, agreed with him on every policy stand he embraced. Almost all of us who served in national security roles in the George W. Bush administration found ourselves crosswise with McCain on some occasion or another.

A great country produces great men, and John McCain was a great one indeed. May he rest in peace but may his legacy rest not.

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By Daniel Twining

I started working for John McCain in 1995. I never really stopped working for him. I served on his Senate staff, including as his foreign policy advisor, a role that took me to some 40 countries with him and allowed me to witness the great man in action during some of the most consequential moments of modern American history, including the campaign for NATO enlargement, the 9/11 attacks, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I volunteered for both his presidential campaigns, doing everything from driving him to events to penning parts of his foreign policy platform. I now run an organization, the International Republican Institute, that he chaired for 25 years until reluctantly handing over its leadership in the weeks before his death. The John McCain I know is not the one in the glare of the media spotlight. The private John McCain is in fact more impressive than the public one.

The media narrative always had McCain in the center of the great public policy cause of the day: from campaign finance reform to North Korean nuclear proliferation to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Russian aggression against its neighbors. He was a leader in these and other causes, foreign and domestic. But the causes that animated him equally passionately were those with no media bandwidth whatsoever: a coup in Fiji that subverted democracy; the cause of human rights defenders in Belarus; persecution against online dissidents in Vietnam; the fate of Cambodia’s opposition in the face of repeated government crackdowns; the prospects for Zimbabwe’s democratic opposition; the future of Iraq’s Kurds; the fate of tiny Baltic nations most Americans could not find on a map; prospects for peace in the Balkans; ethnic cleansing in Burma by the powerful against the powerless.

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Sen. McCain was not selective in his belief that advancing universal values of democracy and human rights served American interests in a more peaceful, stable world. He raged against tyranny in countries such as the Maldives, population 400,000, as virulently as he fulminated against the strongmen in control of authoritarian great powers who had turned their nations into prisons for their people. He took repression personally: How did Putin get away with conning Russians into believing he was protecting their country from American encirclement even as Moscow invaded neighbors in Georgia and Ukraine in an effort to build a new empire? How did successive North Korean despots charm American presidents into negotiating closer ties when large segments of the North Korean population lived in gulags?

Sen. McCain believed deeply that America must lead internationally—and that while our country did so imperfectly and at times intemperately, it was vacuums left by the absence of American leadership that ultimately made the world more dangerous and insecure. America was a different kind of great power, he understood—one whose universalist aspirations were not simply a cloak for the covetous pursuit of territory and resources but a reflection of the belief that our founding ideals were the prerogatives not only of Americans but of all people. If Americans were endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, should that not be true for everyone else too? Those authoritarians who stood in the way of their people’s natural rights to freedom and dignity were the targets of his greatest wrath.

It takes courage and commitment to care so much about the liberty of those who did not have a voice, or who could not pay Washington lobbyists to push their case. Sen. McCain could have made an equally successful career leading on popular causes that made the front pages of the newspapers and led the storylines on cable television. But he was haunted by an insight he had learned in solitary confinement in Vietnam, where he saw the best and worst of humanity.

Honor is not defined by fame and fortune; it’s not determined by the choices you make when everyone is watching. “Honor is who you are in the dark,” he would say, when you are alone—and when no one but yourself will know whether you did the right thing or whether you accommodated, yielding your principles in the pursuit of a narrower self-interest.

John McCain never yielded. America and the world are better for it.

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By Michael Green

More than any other public figure I have had the opportunity to meet, John McCain is the one I tell my own children to exemplify as they seek a life made meaningful by patriotism, integrity and service. My son was very young when I worked on the foreign policy team of the 2008 McCain campaign. At the time my wife bought him the book My Dad John McCain written by Meghan McCain to introduce the candidate to young readers. My son’s collection of books has changed several times since then, but he still keeps My Dad John McCain front and center.

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As Max Boot notes, John McCain was an easy Presidential candidate to support as a foreign policy advisor. In 2008 I represented the campaign in a series of proxy debates organized by think tanks and the press. The Obama team would always come armed with thick books looking like litigators in a complex anti-trust case. While I had a lot of respect and admiration for the guys on the other side of the table, it was clear that their talking points were designed to avoid alienating key Democratic constituencies as much as they were to articulate a clear foreign policy strategy. Team McCain came armed only with an understanding of our candidates’ vision, principles and record. Our counterparts later joked that our clarity on human rights, alliances or trade probably didn’t move any voters in swing states like Florida, but there was no doubt we had much more fun.

Like others, I have also been under the glare of Sen. McCain. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain authorized an external review of U.S. basing strategy for the Pacific that I co-chaired in 2010. Always focused on the taxpayers’ money and the readiness and welfare of our forces, McCain was cranky about the cost of new housing for Marines on Guam and the Rube Goldberg-like airfield the Pentagon was constructing in Okinawa to satisfy local complaints about noise and safety. After six months of intense work, our outside panel concluded that the new dispersed laydown of bases and access arrangements made good operational and strategic sense given China’s growing missile arsenal and reach into the South China Sea, but that the plan would need adjustments. When I first briefed McCain, he grimaced. When I testified, he called me up afterwards and told me I would need “a bigger piece of lipstick” for this particular pig. He was not going to be convinced by ideology, party, or talking points. In the end, he supported the plan, but only after Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work personally squeezed the Navy to bring costs down almost 50 percent and only after we could explain with precise citation of history, geography and operations how the plan could be implemented in a way that would make our service personnel, our country and our allies safer.

John McCain was a constant reminder of American power and principle for our allies in Asia. Secretaries of defense were grateful when he led bipartisan delegations to the Shangri-La security summit every year to reinforce the administration’s message of commitment and staying power in the region. In 2016, when Beijing began bullying the new government of Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei, McCain added a stop in Taiwan on his way back from Singapore to buck her up and push back against the PRC. When Japan was hearing mixed messages about Chinese incursions around the Senkaku Islands, McCain pressed the Obama administration to clarify its support for Tokyo. As many tributes to this great man have emphasized, he relished nothing more than channeling his outrage to plug the gaps in our national security and the shortcomings in our sense of national purpose.

I have been asked in Tokyo, Canberra, Seoul and Taipei on recent trips who will now fill this enormous space in the Senate. I tell our friends that McCain nurtured a strong cohort of principled internationalists on the Senate Armed Services Committee, including Sentors Dan Sullivan and Joni Ernst. John McCain has left them—and all of us—a charge to keep.

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By Phil Levy

I had the honor of coordinating international economic policy for Sen. McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. I have worked on such issues for two presidential administrations and three presidential campaigns, despite my background as an academic economist. There is normally some combustion that occurs when academic economists encounter American politics: The economist will talk about optimal policies; the politicians will dismiss those stances as naive fantasies.

With Sen. McCain’s campaign it was different, at least as far my experience went. Sen. McCain firmly supported whatever policies were most likely to help American consumers, workers, and businesses. He resisted intense pressures to resort to economic demagoguery, such as promises to name China a currency manipulator (a popular stance that both recent winning candidates for the presidency expounded, only to eschew once in office). Sen. McCain was a man of strong principle and believed in doing what was right, even if there was a significant political cost.

One of the great ironies of the 2008 campaign was the dismissal of Sen. McCain as weak on economic issues. It was certainly true that his passion was for security issues. His self-deprecation allowed this to be cast as insufficient preparation for dealing with the economy. Yet his instincts and his stances on economic matters were unusually strong. While he may not have been enamored of the details, he did not need to be; he was of sufficient caliber as a leader that he attracted excellent, experienced people around him, such as Doug Holtz-Eakin, to whom I reported, and some of the others involved in Elephants in the Room.

I cannot claim to have known Sen. McCain well. But I am very proud to have had a small role working with such a principled leader, a true American hero. He will be sorely missed.

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By Dov Zakheim

I knew John McCain since he was a Navy captain, working in the Navy’s Office of Legislative Affairs after he returned from Vietnam. I always admired his heroism, his honesty, and his decency. He had a sense of what was best for the country that sadly too many contemporary politicians seem to lack.

He could have a ferocious temper—but it was one that could dissipate quickly. He once blew up at me when I was testifying at a hearing and did not like my reply to his comments. He absolutely refused to accept my apologies. That summer, however, my wife—not knowing that he was furious at me—bought his latest book on CD, to which we listened while driving to our summer home in New Hampshire. (I write from there now.) One of the items that struck me was his statement that he didn’t believe in personalizing policy differences. When I saw him again in September, he growled at me until I told him that I had listened to his latest book. “You did?” I replied in the affirmative, adding, “And you write that you don’t personalize policy differences.”

His reply: “You’re right. I apologize,” and he extended his hand.

That was John.

He could, however, be ferocious when he knew he was in the right. During the Air Force tanker scandal, he told me that he would not rest until he sent the guilty parties to jail. And to jail they went.

Quite independent of our relationship, John was especially nice to my son Roger. They developed a quite close relationship during conference committee for the Armed Services Authorization bills when Roger was a senior staffer on the HASC. For that I am exceedingly grateful.

I will miss John and so too should everyone who shares his deep concern about our alliances and friendships with partners worldwide, our commitment to those who fight for our freedom, and the values that have made this country great and that he held so dear.

May his memory be a blessing for us all.

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By Dan Runde

Sen. John McCain distinguished himself by having the right adversaries. My wife and I hosted a fundraiser for McCain during the 2016 election cycle. Our key pitch was: “How will the Mullahs in Iran, the Chinese leadership, and Vladimir Putin feel if John McCain loses his Senate seat?” That was the question that moved people to give.

McCain also distinguished himself by the wonderful friends and allies he had. In the Senate, these included Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, and Joe Lieberman. He also sought the foreign-policy advice of brilliant people such as Richard Williamson, Randy Scheunemann, and Stephen Biegun. In politics, McCain was fortunate to have the loyalty and persistence of wonderful folks including Wayne Berman and Charlie Black.

McCain valued allies, worked tirelessly to maintain the rule-based international system set up after World War II, had a clear sense of America’s leadership role, and was (thankfully) our adversaries’ worst nightmare. The world is a freer, safer, and better place for his efforts. He understood that the United States needed both a strong defense and many friends. He also understood that we couldn’t just kill our way out of our problems, so we needed to use our soft power just as we used our hard power.

I always felt as if I was in the presence of greatness when I was with McCain. Like all of us, he had his foibles, but he earned a stack of waivers from me and millions of Americans after spending five-plus years in a prison camp in North Vietnam. In my mind, he had the right to break with Republican orthodoxy or have a personal moment of weakness whenever he wanted.

I made a point of taking my three children to the fundraiser my wife and I organized to make sure they met a real hero. The fundraiser was organized around the time that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump made the accusation that McCain was “not a hero.” I told my children that McCain had made great personal sacrifices for the United States and that his sacrifices and his service were things to admire. I encouraged my children to look up to McCain. I told my children that McCain was a hero. He will always be one of mine.

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By William Tobey

With John McCain’s passing, we must mourn the loss of an American hero. We are blessed that for two centuries men and women such as McCain have stepped forward to protect and to defend America’s constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

McCain possessed both physical and moral courage. In 1967, he pressed ahead on his mission over North Vietnam in the face of anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles that he knew risked his life and which ultimately brought down his airplane. Later, as a prisoner of war, he refused an offer of release ahead of other Americans who had been held longer. Even injured, imprisoned, and tortured, he would not take the easy way out. He did the same thing in his years in the Senate and an unsuccessful campaign to be president.

In 2006, I faced a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. With me were other Republican nominees chosen by then-President George W. Bush. The senator who gave our panel the most difficult time was not a Democrat; it was McCain, because he cared so deeply about the defense of our nation. He would not permit partisanship to prevent him from asking difficult questions. He was relentless in his pursuit of U.S. security—whether in an aircraft cockpit or on the Senate floor.

I mourn his passing and honor his service, and so should all Americans who value our constitution and our liberty.

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By Thomas G. Mahnken

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His passing leaves a yawning void as the United States struggles to deal with a world characterized by the reality of great-power competition and the increasing possibility of great-power war. The U.S. military is nonetheless stronger, and the United States more secure, because of his tenure in Congress.–Thomas G. Mahnken

 

Americans committed to vigorous internationalism and strong national defense have lost a champion, and America has lost a fine and decent public servant.

I had the honor of testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee periodically, and the pleasure of working more frequently with the truly stellar members of his staff. And I was honored to have been one of three commissioners that Sen. McCain appointed to the National Defense Strategy Commission, which has been charged with reviewing the 2018 National Defense Strategy and reporting its findings to Congress, the President, and the Secretary of Defense.

John McCain truly loved the U.S. armed forces, though not in a starry-eyed, reflexive way. This was not bumper-sticker patriotism. Rather, he possessed a deep and abiding connection to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces in which he himself had served, together with a sense of duty that often led him to ask uncomfortable questions of civilian and military leaders in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Where he saw inaction, he prodded; where he saw problems, he sought solutions; where he experienced obfuscation, he berated. Over the years, he championed the causes that he believed needed championing to improve the nation’s defense, to include strengthening the U.S. military in the Asia-Pacific region and moving the services to adopt new ways of war. His committee’s Restoring American Power laid out a vision of a stronger U.S. military better positioned to confront the operational and strategic challenges that confront us. To the extent that there is a Trump military buildup, one of its chief architects was John McCain.

Even before he was diagnosed with cancer, he acted with a sense of purpose. As befit a man who according to the odds should have died twice—first during the deadly fire that engulfed the flight deck of the USS Forrestal, and later as the result of injuries sustained before and during his captivity in Hanoi—he was fearless, impatient, and abrasive.

His passion, determination, and dedicated focus on national defense—qualities the nation needs now more than ever—will be hard to replace. His passing leaves a yawning void as the United States struggles to deal with a world characterized by the reality of great-power competition and the increasing possibility of great-power war. The U.S. military is nonetheless stronger, and the United States more secure, because of his tenure in Congress.

Fair winds and following seas, Senator.

Elephants in the Room is a blog about U.S. foreign policy in the age of Trump, written by experienced GOP policymakers, scholars, and others not currently working in the new administration. It is curated by co-editors Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.

Kofi Annan, The Gentle Peacemaker


August 22, 2018

Foreign Policy pays tribute to Kofi Annan, The Gentle Peacemaker

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Kofi Annan was the epitome of international diplomacy—which is why he was both an inspiration and a disappointment.

Not long after the announcement that former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan had died at 80 on Saturday, I heard a broadcast of his voice, and the whole man came back to me at once: the velvet texture of his presence, the exquisite courtesy and kindness, the reticence born of both native tact and endless diplomatic experience, the slightly throttled cadence that must have come from wrapping his West African tongue around English vocables but always lent him a quality of diffidence or remove. Annan was a rare kind of man—too cautious to be actually interesting, yet profoundly compelling.

I notice a metaphysical confusion in some of the commentary around Annan, including his New York Times obituary: Because the U.N. suffered self-evident failures during Annan’s tenure, Annan must have had corresponding moral flaws. The U.N. was feckless, so Annan was feckless. The oil-for-food program turned into an ugly mess, so Annan was tainted by corruption.

This strikes me as a misunderstanding of the man. So, however, does the view of many who loved and admired him that Annan was a martyr to the cynical power politics and reckless ideology of his time, and thus innocent of the consequences of his own shortcomings.

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I spent hundreds of hours in Annan’s company, and dozens of hours alone with him, while writing The Best Intentions, my 2006 book on the U.N. during his tenure. I watched from a privileged position when Annan traveled to Baghdad in 1998 to persuade Saddam Hussein to permit weapons inspectors to return to Iraq.

One thing I learned about Annan was that his delicacy was born not of timidity but of diplomatic calculation; after emerging from his grueling, and at least temporarily successful, negotiations with Saddam, he talked to me about the importance of allowing an Arab autocrat to save face in order to make concessions possible. The next morning, I watched while he admonished Saddam’s vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan: “You should try to moderate your language.” That was the Annan equivalent of cold fury.

Annan came from a line of Ashanti tribal chiefs. He understood, in the chiefly way, that one could win by allowing the other man to feel that he had won, a strategic act of ego suppression whose merits one could not even explain, much less justify, to the current president of the United States. At times, he seemed almost to have eliminated himself; he had thoughts where other men had feelings. He could listen endlessly to a circle of Darfuri women who had been raped by janjaweed militias, but he could not find the language, or the gesture, to console them. Yet his very gravity, his patience, felt like a kind of blessing.

Yet this extreme reserve was also Annan’s weakness. He regarded outright conflict as failure; this deeply held conviction also served as a pretext to shy away from necessary confrontation. He could not, to take a small example, fire people—he had others do his dirty work. He could not, would not, fight back.

In the fall of 2004, conservatives smarting from the Security Council’s failure to approve the decision to go to war with Iraq put unrelenting pressure on Annan over the wildly overhyped oil-for-food scandal, with some demanding that he resign. Annan made the strategic calculation, perhaps a prudent one, that he would only stoke the fires by responding. But he couldn’t even bring himself to call, say, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and tell him to protect the U.N. by defending the secretary-general. Annan’s aides fell into despair over their boss’s passivity. I asked Annan if he didn’t feel enraged at the gross cynicism of the attacks. “You do get mad sometimes,” he murmured. Not “I do,” but “you do.”

About the Author

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James Traub is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, a fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, and author of the book “John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit.” @jamestraub1

 

It is natural to compare a U.N. secretary-general to a pope, because that is the only other job surrounded with so bright an aura of moral authority. But while the College of Cardinals selects each new pope with an eye to what is best for the Roman Catholic Church, the great powers choose sectaries-general with an eye to what is best for them—which often dictates a maximally compliant figure.

Annan surprised the United States by proving to be a far more commanding figure than it had expected, with a charisma that allowed him at times to act as an independent figure. But he was also a lifelong U.N. man who had thoroughly internalized the institution’s norms and thus at critical moments—above all in Rwanda and in Bosnia, when he was head of peacekeeping—could not abandon those norms when they no longer served the cause of justice. Think, by contrast, of Pope Francis, a man of his church as Annan was of his, who has nevertheless outraged conservatives by his willingness to rethink and even discard orthodoxy.

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But that’s unfair, of course. The pope has sovereign authority over the Vatican and spiritual authority over Catholics. The secretary-general occupies almost the opposite position, as he is subject to the sovereign authorities who choose him and who exercise supreme power in the Security Council.

It wasn’t Annan who failed to stop the genocide in Darfur, any more than it was his successor, Ban Ki-moon, who failed in Syria. China blocked even the possibility of effective action against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whom it regarded as a client, as Russia did in the case of Syria. Annan had almost a charmed first term, when Bill Clinton was the U.S. president, and a nightmarish second one, during the time of George W. Bush.

So yes, the institutional and political limits on the power of the secretary-general are so severe that the personal attributes of the individual are almost incidental. Kurt Waldheim was a dreadful person but hardly a worse U.N. leader than the gentle U Thant. Dag Hammarskjold was a truly great secretary-general not only because of his abundant gifts but because the great powers hadn’t yet caught on to the powers implicit in the office.

You’ll never have a great secretary-general again, even if the great powers install a wily, experienced former head of government, as they have in the case of the incumbent, former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres.

Realism dictates that we let go of our obsession with the foibles of each new secretary-general, but we wish—or, in any case, I wish—to cling to a tattered faith in the institution. Kofi Annan’s power to disappoint was a measure of his power to inspire. He was a man of Africa who had thoroughly imbibed the moral habits of the West. In his first speech as secretary-general to the Organization of African Unity, he said that while he knew that many African leaders—that is, his audience—considered the demand for human rights as “an imposition, if not a plot, by the industrialized West,” he regarded that view as “demeaning of the yearning for human dignity that resides in every African heart.”

Perhaps the finest thing one may say of Annan’s tenure is that he found the U.N. a club of states and infused into it the liberal principle of individual rights. Perhaps the worst thing one could say is that Annan never found a way of saying no, even politely, whether to a U.S. president demanding that the U.N. clean up his mess in Iraq or to right-wingers howling for his head.

No one believed in the U.N. more single-mindedly than Annan. To acknowledge his flaws as well as his virtues, and to say that they mattered, is to render Annan the elementary service of saying that he mattered. That soft, finely modulated voice will remain with us even as the man himself is gone. It is the voice of our better angels.

The New Yorker: Kofi Annan’s Unaccountable Legacy


August 20, 2018

The New Yorker: Kofi Annan’s Unaccountable Legacy

During his ten years as Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan was often spoken of as a figure of preternatural calm. He appeared, even to those who worked most closely with him, to be a man devoid of anger, who would never take things personally—a quality reflected in his habit of speaking, when matters of consequence were at stake, in the royal “we.” Annan’s ability to project this unflappable persona—the honest broker between conflicting interests—was generally cited as his great strength. In other, much more profound ways, however, this aloofness was his defining weakness.

Prior to becoming Secretary-General, in 1997, Annan served as the head of the U.N.’s peacekeeping department, and in that capacity presided over the ignominious failures of the U.N. missions in Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. Yet, right up until his death, on Saturday, in Switzerland, he steadfastly refused to acknowledge any meaningful sense of personal or institutional responsibility for these debacles, even as he spoke tirelessly of the world’s desperate need for more responsible leadership—“cool heads and sober judgment,” as he put it in an interview with the BBC, in April, in one of his final public appearances, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

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Kofi Annan and his wife Nane Lagergren

Annan’s image of cool was, of course, just that: an image. There is no mistaking the prickly personal pique, for instance, in a cable he sent in 1995, on the eve of the first anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, to another U.N. official. The tone of defensive derision is established in the first sentence: “Every now and then some journalist or human rights advocate remarks, usually on the media, that either they themselves or someone else had warned UNAMIR”—the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda—“of the impending genocide.” Annan then wrote, “We do not recall any specific reports from Kigali to this effect.” A review of the peacekeeping files, he wrote, had turned up only four cables from Kigali in the months preceding the genocide that mentioned “ethnic tensions as being possibly related—or not related—to specific incidents of violence.”

But, in reality, one of the four cables Annan listed consisted of an alarmingly specific report of preparations for the genocide, sent by his force commander in Kigali, the Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, in January of 1994. Dallaire had heard from a trusted informant on the payroll of Rwanda’s ruling party, who described plans to “provoke a civil war,” and to kill Belgian peacekeepers in order to scuttle the U.N. mission. The informant himself said he was involved in drawing up lists of Tutsis in Kigali, and Dallaire wrote, “He suspects it is for their extermination. Example he gave was that in twenty minutes his personnel could kill up to a thousand Tutsis.” Dallaire asked for permission to act on this information by raiding and seizing illegal arms caches. Annan’s office replied at once, in a cable under his name, and signed by his deputy, telling Dallaire not to act but, rather, to follow diplomatic protocol and share his information with Rwanda’s President—the head of the party that Dallaire wanted to act against. Three months later, in April of 1994, everything that Dallaire described in his warning took place, and in the course of a hundred days around a million Tutsis were massacred.

 

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In May of 1998, when I published a report on Dallaire’s fax and Annan’s response, Annan—who had since been promoted to Secretary-General—dismissed reporters’ questions on the exchange, saying, “This is an old story which is being rehashed.” And he said, “I have no regrets.” The following year, when a U.N.-commissioned investigation described Annan’s failure to share the information in Dallaire’s fax with the Security Council as “incomprehensible,” he remained studiously cool and impersonal. “All of us must bitterly regret that we did not do more to prevent it,” he said. “On behalf of the United Nations, I acknowledge this failure and express my deep remorse.”

Annan was the first Secretary-General ever to come from a lifelong career in the U.N. bureaucracy. In a Profile I wrote of him, in 2003, during the run-up to the Iraq War, I described how that background had shaped his instincts and reflexes:

Annan’s habit of speaking in the name of the U.N. when he is criticized, and of casting the collective burden of the organization’s failures on the shoulders of the world at large, stands in stark contrast to his willingness to take credit when there’s praise to be had. It is a deeply ingrained reflex among U.N. officials to blame the member states for the organization’s failures, just as the member states blame the U.N. for theirs. Invariably, there are well-founded grievances on both sides of this seesaw of complaint, but they cannot properly be judged by the same standards.

As Secretary-General, Annan sought to assert the U.N.’s authority as the ultimate arbiter of legitimacy and legality in international affairs. The paradox of that authority, however, is that it is entirely derived from the sovereign powers over which it is meant to hold sway. Annan’s insistence that the U.N. could not be blamed for its failures, but that it should get credit in the event of success, failed to resolve that paradox.

As Secretary-General, he resisted the temptation to make any more of the false promises of protection that the U.N. had repeatedly betrayed on his watch at peacekeeping, and for this he was hailed as a reformer. But his attempt to recast the U.N.’s role as an international legal authority meant limiting its legitimacy to nothing more, nor less, than the Security Council’s seal of approval. And the contradictions of this legalistic position came to a head in the run-up to the Iraq War. When the United States made its case for overthrowing Saddam Hussein on the basis of Saddam’s refusal to comply with past Security Council resolutions, Annan was caught in a bind, helping to steer the Security Council into granting legitimacy to a war that he and most of the U.N.’s member states considered illegitimate.

 

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Annan was the last U.N. Secretary-General to figure, in news headlines and public consciousness, as a central figure in the major international conflicts of his time. That he was weak was a function, chiefly, of his office, but it was also a function of his curious mixture of grandiosity and unaccountability. He fancied himself a great leader, but he was constitutionally incapable of accepting the burdens that great leadership entails. In his final press conference as Secretary-General, he spoke bitterly, even mockingly, of being asked to carry the weight of his office. “There is a tendency in certain places to blame the Secretary-General for everything, for Rwanda, for Srebrenica, for Darfur,” he said. “But should we not also blame the Secretary-General for Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the tsunami, earthquakes? Perhaps the Secretary-General should be blamed for all of those things. We can have fun with that, if you want.” This past April, when he sat for his interview with the BBC, Annan was pressed one last time to acknowledge that some of his actions and inactions on the world stage had had consequences. He was as dismissive as ever. Of Bosnia, he said, “It’s always easy to find a scapegoat.” Of Rwanda, he said, “We were helpless.” May he rest in peace.

  • Philip Gourevitch has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker since 1995, and a staff writer since 1997

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