In the unofficial regional-rotation system for the United Nations Secretary-Generals it clearly was not the turn for a good old Aussie psychopath. Neither was it for an Eastern European, despite high expectations across that region – the problem probably being Easter Europe is not communist enough anymore. In a matter of days, white smoke from burning Oil-For-Food invoices and secret internal reports about sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers will announce the election of a new Secretary-General. It will be a European, the first since the war criminal Kurt Waldheim, and it will be a leftie.
To all those shocked and disappointed that the United Nations elevated another one to its highest position: why? As if the worldâ€™s premier transnational body could ever be led by somebody from the centre or right of it. John Bolton or Paul Wolfowitz â€“ or even Tony Blair â€“ will never be a Gen-Sec, unless possibly immediately prior to and as one of the Biblical signs of an impending Armageddon.
Portugalâ€™s Antonio Gutteres is a former engineer and an academic, practicing Catholic, remarried widower, former Socialist Prime Minister, and between 2005 and 2015 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Itâ€™s a good UN resume.
[Please temporary turn off your wanker alert as I briefly name-drop]
Iâ€™ve met Gutteres more than two years ago in Geneva for an official but small and informal lunch, while he was still the High Commissioner. In person, he is a nice, warm and engaging individual, which is a rare for somebody who have managed to climb to the very top of a greasy political and bureaucratic pole. Chatham House rules prevent me from divulging the details of the conversations around the table, but letâ€™s just say that while of course a leftie, surprisingly Gutteres is an unsentimentally realistic one when international affairs and challenges are concerned. Some of his rather blunt opinions would no doubt make most of his trendy colleagues turn pale if voiced publicly. Which is why he would never do.
[OK, you can turn the wanker alert back on]
What does it mean in practice? Not much. Institutions and organisations, including transnational ones, are much bigger than any individual. Whatever Gutteresâ€™ minor private heresies, they wonâ€™t influence the direction of the United Nations. It will be business as usual in Turtle Bay, New York, and throughout all the scattered administrative outposts around the world, including in the equally genteel Geneva: bloated, inefficient, sometimes corrupt, often ridiculous, always trendy, almost always useless. But unlike some right-wingers I wouldnâ€™t necessarily want to bulldoze the very ugly UN headquarters into the East River to clear some prime real estate in Midtown Manhattan for new and exciting development. I think this sort of a talking shop for second-rate individuals from third-rate countries is a useful thing, if only to allow â€œthe international communityâ€ to let off some steam and to serve as a continuing reminder to the rest of us what shambles and a sham any real world government would be.
In the meantime, best of luck to Antonio Gutteres. While Kevin Rudd would have undoubtedly brought his own unique mix of crazy shitbattery and administrative chaos to the UN, Iâ€™m afraid there are bigger and better things that await Nambourâ€™s favourite son of a bitch. Pray we never discover what they are.