The Mugabe Pick Shouldn’t Hurt the World Health Organization

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe in April. His nomination as a United Nations good-will ambassador has been rescinded. Jekesai Njikizana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It is astonishing that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, picked Robert Mugabe as a “good-will ambassador.” After the inevitable outcry that followed, Dr. Tedros rescinded the nomination, but the question endures: Could the director general of a major United Nations agency, an Ethiopian who has held a variety of high-level posts in his country and abroad and is well respected in the field of public health, not have read reports on the damage the tyrant of Zimbabwe has done to his own country’s health system?

The position of United Nations good-will ambassador is not a salaried one, but appointments to the post are a way to enlist prominent personalities in support of various U.N. programs. Michael Bloomberg, for example, is a global ambassador for noncommunicable diseases.

Still, the incident is certain to add to the chorus of criticism from some conservative quarters of the United States that has accompanied the United Nations since its founding, especially coming on the heels of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). Much of that has focused on the perception that the United Nations is controlled by a majority that is inimical to American interests and values and obsessed with trashing Israel, and more broadly on the notion that the United States should stay away from all multilateral organizations.

That attitude, which is sadly prevalent in President Trump’s view of the world, is particularly unwarranted for the W.H.O., whose global health mission is one the United States should support, especially in preventing the spread of global threats like Ebola. The W.H.O. did come under criticism for its tardiness in recognizing the danger of that outbreak, but not on political or ideological grounds.

The real question, however, is not whether multinational forums take actions that are often infuriating — they do — but whether the way to combat this is to pull out. – New York Times Editorial Board

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