James Traub is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, where he has worked since 1998. From 1994 to 1997, he was a staff writer for The New Yorker. He has also written for The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and elsewhere. His articles have been widely reprinted and anthologized. He has written extensively about international affairs and especially the United Nations.
In recent years, he has reported from Iran, Iraq, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Vietnam, India, Kosovo and Haiti. He has also written often about national politics and urban affairs, including education, immigration, race, poverty and crime.
His books include, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power; The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square; City On A Hill, a book on open admissions at City College; and The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
James Traub: Well, I wrote “The Best Intentions” at an unbelievable low point in America and UN relations. It is an immediate period after Iraq and so forth and that things are better than they were. But I also think that UN has gotten marginalized in a lot of ways. Partially… You guys… So tell me when I should start talking again. Good. I also think that UN has gotten marginalized in a lot of ways and partially because of the Bush Administration. I think we sent an ambassador there, John Bolton, who was very hostile to the institution that reduce America’s own role there, America’s own standing there. We also had the chief hand in choosing the Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon. Now, Ban Ki-Moon is not quite two years into his 5-year term and it is possible that he will prove to be a more forceful figure than he has so far, but, certainly, the impression one gets is that the United States chose him ‘cause they thought he would be an inoffensive pro-American figure and that’s what he’s been. He’s been an inoffensive pro-American figure. But if we actually want the UN to matter, then we have to choose its Chief Executive for his confidence not for his harmlessness. And so, it’s just troubling that we have not sought to use this institution in the way that it can be used and I would hope that Obama will take it more seriously.