Kofi Annan

Editor’s Note: We’ll be running the article recommendations of our friends at TNR Reader each afternoon on The Plank, just in time to print out or save for your commute home. Enjoy! Why are American students doing so poorly? Blame the parents. The Nation | 10 min (2,553 words) Why is the world convinced of the perfect morality of Kofi Annan? The New York Review of Books | 13 min (3,140 words) The hungry ego: Adam Kirsch on why vanity is the writer's nagging, eternal plague. Poetry | 14 min (3,584 words) Jazz is dying.

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It’s clear that the conflict in Syria is now an issue in the American presidential campaign, largely at the insistence of Mitt Romney’s Republican supporters. Most notable among the interjections was an emotional speech recently delivered on the Senate floor by Senator John McCain, in which he demanded to know why the White House was abetting Bashar al Assad’s murdering of innocents. There is, of course, much to quibble with in this characterization: Far from doing nothing to oppose Bashar, the Obama administration has supported the U.N.

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Speaking Thursday before the U.N. General Assembly, just one day after the latest massacre of civilians by government-affiliated forces, Kofi Annan warned that the crisis in Syria was on a disastrous course. “If things do not change, the future is likely to be one of brutal repression, massacres, sectarian violence and even all-out civil war,” he said. “All Syrians will lose.” Annan, of course, is not the first to evoke the term “civil war” in reference to the crisis in Syria, which has already resulted in more than 10,000 dead and 50,000 missing.

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The only real surprise about the six-point peace plan for Syria put forward by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan is why it took until yesterday, the eve of its proposed ceasefire, for the world to declare it a failure. Reacting to the latest violence throughout Syria on Monday, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Washington is “not hopeful” that Tuesday would see a cessation of hostilities. But any such hope was naïve to begin with. Among the things the past year has taught us is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a master of diversion.

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It should have raised red flags when both Syria and Russia approved of Kofi Annan’s February 23 appointment as the United Nations-Arab League Joint Special Envoy (JSE) to Syria. But after bickering world powers repeatedly failed to agree on an emissary to broker an end to the killing spree in which Bashar al-Assad has killed more than 9,000 people, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, was content to laud Annan as “an outstanding choice.” Certainly the Ghana-born Annan comes loaded with credentials: former U.N.

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Specks of War

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so the other day I read Rachel Maddow’s new book. It is called Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, and it is an anthropologically useful document of the new American disaffection with American force.

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Yes, we know we’re tempting fate. But we figure there’s a 50 percent chance Obama will get reelected, and in any case he needs an agenda to campaign on. So we’ve asked a number of TNR writers to explain what they think Obama should focus on for the next four years if he wins in November. Click here to read the collected contributions. If he were to earn a second term, Barack Obama should at least initiate the process of ending the War on Drugs. One reason is that the War on Drugs has been a massive failure by any serious estimation.

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I know that this is harsh. But I use the word pusillanimous in its ugliest meaning—which is the “unmanly” meaning—especially in relation to Saudi Arabia, having stockpiled weapons and trained soldiers for decades so that by now it is the only Arab country capable of taking on the monstrous regime in Damascus … and winning. I say “unmanly” because the kingdom has done nothing of the sort.

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