KOFI ANNAN….Kofi Annan is giving his last major speech today before he turns over the reins of the UN to South Korea’s Ban Ki-moon on January 1. So how does Annan’s tenure measure up? In a review of The Best Intentions, James Traub’s recently released profile of Annan and the modern UN, Foreign Policy managing editor William Dobson showers Annan with faint praise: “If Annan had served just one term, he might have been remembered as [Dag] Hammarskj?ld?s reincarnation. But he didn?t, and the last five years have been among the most grueling in the institution?s six decades.”

So what happened in Annan’s second five years? In a word, George Bush:

For the United Nations today, there is no greater challenge than that posed by American unilateralism in a world where the United States is so wholly dominant. The showdown between the world body and its most powerful member came to a head, of course, in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. The Bush administration?s National Security Strategy, published a week after the attacks of 9/11, declared the United States? right to what amounted to unilateral preemption. International law had long recognized a state?s right to defend itself from an imminent attack, but a preventive attack against a mounting threat could only be legitimate if sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council. In seeking the United Nations? acquiescence to its war plans for Iraq, President Bush could not have been more pointed than when he asked the General Assembly, ?Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant??

Dobson suggests that in the end, it may be the UN that has the last laugh, but in the meantime Annan leaves office “pained, weary, and somewhat absent.” Read the whole thing for a paradoxical valedictory of a paradoxical man.