Mr. Obama will be a relatively young man when he retires from the most powerful position on earth – the Presidency of the United States. He will be 55, just a year older than Bill Clinton was when he left office, and seven years younger than was George W. Bush. What will he do for an encore? Will he go back to Hawaii and paint, like Mr. Bush? Will he use his years in public service as a means to accumulate personal wealth, as Bill Clinton has done? Or will he use the Presidency of the U.S. as a stepping stone to become the leader of the world – free and not free?
Descending from the imperial throne of the American Presidency cannot be easy. Though, there have been Presidents like Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush who, like Cincinnatus, exchanged the robes of Commander in Chief, if not for the plowshare, at least for a life away from the media and the siren call of fame. But humility is not in Mr. Obama’s DNA.
Modesty has never characterized him and his ex cathedra habits. Who can forget the Roman columns in Denver when, in 2008 he accepted his Party’s nomination for President. He is, as he has told us, “a better speech writer than my speech writers” and is “a better political director than my political director.” He has, as he has redundantly told us, “a healthy ego.” He has taken narcissism to a new level – a difficult accomplishment in a world that contains William Jefferson Clinton. With incongruous self-contradiction, Mr. Obama, like many anti-Imperialists, believes in rule by elites – those because of their talents and moral certitude can best decide for the rest of us.
The job of Secretary-General (SG) of the United Nations beckons. Were it not for the fact that Barack Obama comes from one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the job would be a shoo-in. Historically (to the extent that seventy years of existence can be said to have a history!), the job of SG has gone to one from a mid-sized country, never to an individual from one of the five members of the Security Council and never to a person who had trod the world stage as a colossus. Nevertheless, an exception might be made in Mr. Obama’s case. This, I hasten to add, is not an original thought. Others have concluded that Mr. Obama may throw his proverbial hat into this global ring, most notably James Lewis who writes for American Thinker.
An interest in the job as Secretary-General would explain some of the inexplicable things Mr. Obama has done as President – such as not calling Islamic terrorists, Islamic terrorists; ignoring Congress; not confronting Russia regarding Syria or the Ukraine; removing, at the behest of Russia, missile defense systems from Eastern Europe; leaving China to flex its muscles in the South China Sea; making nice with Iran; alienating Israel, and befriending the Castro brothers. It would explain his “apology” tour, his grasping the hand of Hugo Chávez, and his bowing to Middle Eastern dictators. The job would feed his preference for a greener world, where climate change would take precedence over dealing with the survivability of Social Security and whether racial tensions in inner cities will worsen. He would no longer have to worry about a recalcitrant Congress or an interfering Judiciary. Since no prior Secretary-General has tested the limits of the job, he would be unfettered by rules or tradition.
Since inception, there have been eight Secretary-Generals of the UN. All represented mid-size countries, from Trygve Lie of Norway – the UN’s first Secretary General – to Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, the man currently in the job. In terms of continents, besides Europe and Asia, South America has been represented (Javier Pèrez de Cuèllar of Peru) and so has Africa (Kofi Annan of Ghana and Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt). While there are no term limits, no individual has served more than two five-year terms.
The Secretary-General is chosen by the 193 member states. The Security Council, made up of the five permanent members and ten rotating members, is the governing body. Any of the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.) can veto the selection made by the full body. With 57 member states (or almost a third of the body) being Muslim nations, they are critical to an election. The fame, charisma and prestige of a man like Barack Obama, with a Muslim father and who spent four years in a third-world nation, might transform what has generally been a delightful sinecure into a meaningful job. Having Mr. Obama in the role of SG would mark a radical shift from the past, as no one of his renown has served in the position before.
The United Nations is limited in what it can and cannot do. It has no ability to tax, relying instead on assessments and voluntary contributions of member nations; its legal authority is relegated below that of its member states; the International Court of Justice can decide disputes, but their decisions are based upon the voluntary participation of member states; it does not command its own army. While the UN Charter states that the SG shall be the chief administrative officer, it does not dictate any specific duties.
It would be unusual for the United Nations, with both China and Russia capable of wielding a veto, to have a former American President be elected its head. But Barack Obama is not your typical American, and certainly not a typical President. Both of his two nearest predecessors, while coming from opposite sides of the political aisle, were quintessential Americans. He is more cosmopolitan – more a man of the world than inherently American. He was born in Hawaii in 1961, 2400 miles from the California coast. His father left his mother shortly after his birth. At the age of four he moved in with his maternal grandparents. He then spent four years (1967-1971) living in Indonesia, where his mother had moved two years earlier with her second husband. At age ten he returned to Hawaii to attend Punahou School – the largest independent school in the United States – from which he graduated in 1979.
Mr. Obama is young, charismatic, articulate and ambitious. He appears to have little interest in knowing how things work, or in managing a cumbersome bureaucracy. He prefers speech making and extolling his vision that incorporates an anti-imperialistic perception of the world. The United Nations, by itself, is powerless. But the job comes with a pulpit that looks out over a large congregation. If one believes, as do I, that it is the person, not the position, that lends power to an institution then the possibilities for Mr. Obama are open-ended – that is, if the world lets him. Ban Ki-moon’s second term ends on December 31, 2016, about three weeks before Mr. Obama leaves office – providing a convenient moment for Barack Obama. The power and the influence he could amass would be unlike anything the world has ever seen.
The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.
The AEC’s fundamental goal is to promote a free, responsible and prosperous society. Through education and improving public understanding of key economic questions, the AEC promotes the idea of a free market economy and the ideal of a free society.