For Obama-Ban Odd Couple, Farewells but No Victory Lap at U.N.

For Obama-Ban Odd Couple, Farewells but No Victory Lap at U.N.
U.N. Secetary-General Ban Ki-moon with U.S. President Barack Obama at the Leaders’ Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Sept. 29, 2015, New Yok (U.N. photo by Eskinder Debebe).

It is time for farewells at the United Nations. On Tuesday, Ban Ki-moon will make his last address as secretary-general to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. A little later, U.S. President Barack Obama will make his valedictory appearance at the same forum.

It is hard to think of two more different political figures than the philosophical, articulate Obama and the protocol-obsessed, tongue-tied Ban. That perhaps explains why there is little evidence of much real personal chemistry between the two. Yet it is fitting that they will say some goodbyes together. The two men have fought for common causes and faced common crises, and U.S.-U.N. relations have been more or less stable on their watch. Veteran U.N. officials say that they cannot recall a period in which their U.S. counterparts have been so broadly sympathetic to their proposals and concerns.

Both Ban and Obama took office at a time when the relationship was in a vastly worse state in the wake of the Iraq War. Ban, who became secretary-general in 2007, was an instinctive pro-American keen to avoid the kinds of bust-ups with Washington that had marred the final years of his predecessor Kofi Annan’s tenure.

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