Kofi Annan, the outgoing UN secretary general, has delivered a barely disguised broadside against President George Bush in his last major speech before leaving office at the end of the month.
He suggested that in the "war on terror", President Bush had ridden roughshod over the international community and compromised America's respect for human rights. Mr Annan made plain his concern that the United States had allowed its status as the world's sole superpower, coupled with its desire to protect itself against terrorists, to undermine its historical commitment to multilateralism.
He added: "No nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others. We all share responsibility for each other's security, and only by working to make each other secure can we hope to achieve lasting security for ourselves."
The speech was delivered in Independence, Missouri, in the presidential library of Harry Truman, who presided over the founding of the United Nations six decades ago.
At times, Mr Annan appeared to contrast the principles of global responsibility evoked by Mr Truman with the actions of Mr Bush.
The UN leader, who will be replaced in January by Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea, remained unspecific in his critique of the US, but few in the American audience will have mistaken his references both to the failure of Washington in 2003 to win unequivocal approval at the UN for the invasion of Iraq or subsequent human rights controversies, including revelations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
"This country has historically been in the vanguard of the global human rights movement," Mr Annan said. "But that lead can be maintained only if America remains true to its principles, including in the struggle against terrorism. When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused."
Backed by Washington when he was chosen 10 years ago to replace Boutros Boutros Ghali of Egypt to head the UN, Mr Annan has never enjoyed easy ties with Washington. He did not shy yesterday from touching the wounds left by the decision to invade Iraq, justified by the US and Britain as a mission to erase weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.
"No state can make its own actions legitimate in the eyes of others," he warned. "When power, especially military force, is used, the world will consider it legitimate only when convinced that it is being used for the right purpose - for broadly shared aims - in accordance with broadly accepted norms."
It was a lesson expounded by President Truman, Mr Annan noted, implying that Washington needed reminding. "As Harry Truman said, 'We all have to recognise, no matter how great our strength, that we must deny ourselves the licence to do always as we please'.
"The US has given the world an example of a democracy in which everyone, including the most powerful, is subject to legal restraint. Its current moment of world supremacy gives it a priceless opportunity to entrench the same principles at the global level," he added.
The address included a laundry list of principles at the heart of the UN ideal. Among them was the lesson that "governments must be accountable for their actions in the international arena as well as in the domestic one".
Others included the need to remain committed to multilateralism and to share responsibility to protect people from genocide, hunger and poverty. For these ideals to be followed and for all the multilateral institutions to function properly, "the system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership, in the Truman tradition," Mr Annan said.
On suffering, Mr Annan made clear his belief that the rhetoric of world leaders remained unmatched by action. "When I look at the murder, rape and starvation to which the people of Darfur are being subjected, I fear that we have not got far beyond lip service," he said. "The Security Council is not just another stage on which to act out national interests," he insisted. "It is the management committee, if you will, of our fledgling collective security system."Reuse content