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Paging Bill Clinton ... again

THE BEST THING HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON could do for humanity is not run for president. Nothing against her personally, mind you; it’s just that her aspirations could get in the way of her husband’s worthier ones.

In our continuing quest to find an appropriate job for our favorite ex-president -- a year and a half ago we suggested he become chairman of the Democratic Party -- we now offer an even better suggestion. This time, it’s a post he has coveted. Not long after leaving office in 2001, Clinton reportedly told an aide that his dream job would be secretary-general of the United Nations. That’s our dream too.

The United Nations is a chronic underachiever. Envisioned as the most important organization in the world, the U.N. is often reduced to nothing more than an ineffective debating society. Its New York bureaucracy is calcified, with personnel decisions often based more on patronage than merit. The interests of its 191 member-nations are so polarized that consensus on anything of importance is nearly impossible. It is an institution that produces mountains of reports on bettering the world and follows through on only a few of them. The U.N. famously deliberates in the midst of genocides, produces commitments on foreign aid that its members subsequently ignore and allows countries like Cuba to pass judgment on others’ respect for human rights.

And yet, for all that, the world would be a much grimmer place if the U.N. didn’t exist. Its peacekeepers are a thin blue-helmeted line between tyrants and innocent civilians around the world, and they represent the only force that can stop the bloodshed in hot spots such as Darfur. Its food, disease-prevention and other aid programs are making a significant difference in blighted areas, and its toothless mechanisms for preventing weapons proliferation at least provide a legitimate way to document the actions of dangerous regimes. In an ever more interdependent world, the United Nations will only become more important -- which is why a strong U.N. secretary-general would be a global asset.

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The U.N.'s reputation has been tattered by peacekeeper sex scandals, the Iraq oil-for-food fiasco and other leadership failures. Nearly everybody agrees that reforms are desperately needed, but no one has emerged who can unite the competing factions and bring about real change. The United States -- the most potent force for spreading freedom and democracy around the world -- is thoroughly disillusioned with the United Nations. Americans are largely disengaged with the organization’s actions. Bill Clinton at the helm would change that overnight.

Clinton also could bridge the growing divide between Washington and much of the world. He has been all but beatified in Africa, where his foundation has negotiated big discounts on drugs for treating AIDS. European heads of state eat out of his hand, and even the most hostile elements in the Arab world respect him as a peacemaker. He is so well known in China that a condom has been named after him, and his support in the U.S. cuts a swath across the ideological and socioeconomic spectrum, from billionaires to evangelicals to inner-city minorities. If Clinton can attract hordes of reporters at every public appearance even when he’s out of office, think of the clout he would wield as head of the United Nations -- clout that could focus Americans on the plight of the Third World or persuade implacable enemies to at least take a seat at the negotiating table.

Though Clinton is clearly the best candidate for the job, his selection as secretary-general is admittedly a long, long shot. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s second five-year term expires Dec. 31, and the behind-the-scenes jockeying for his replacement began months ago. Under an unwritten gentleman’s agreement, the position is chosen using a rotation system among regions of the world. This time, it is thought to be Asia’s turn, and a slew of earnest but uninspiring Asian functionaries are being considered for the gig. It would be unprecedented for a secretary-general to hail from a country that is among the Security Council’s five permanent members.

If Clinton’s nationality makes his selection improbable, the fact that he is the husband of a potential U.S. presidential candidate makes it impossible. There is no way the rest of the world would support a U.N. chief who might be married to a head of state, especially when that state happens to be the U.S.

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If the Security Council members were truly inspired to pick the right man for the job, and if Hillary Clinton’s candidacy were the only obstacle standing between her husband and global leadership (granted, a big if), we’d like to think she’d do the right thing and put her presidential aspirations on hold. The world needs Bill more than the U.S. needs Hillary.


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