Sergio Vieira de Mello - a humanitarian, peacemaker and state builder - was at centre of the most significant geopolitical crises of the last half-century. Born in 1948, just as the post - World War II order was taking shape, he died in a terrorist attack on UN headquarters in Iraq in 2003 as the battle lines in the twenty first-century's first ...
Sergio Vieira de Mello - a humanitarian, peacemaker and state builder - was at centre of the most significant geopolitical crises of the last half-century. Born in 1948, just as the post - World War II order was taking shape, he died in a terrorist attack on UN headquarters in Iraq in 2003 as the battle lines in the twenty first-century's first great polarizing struggle were being drawn. This is a dual biography: the story of a brave and enigmatic man who never stopped learning and had a thirty-year head start in thinking about the central challenges of our time, and the biography of a perilous world whose ills are too big to ignore, but also too complex to manage quickly or cheaply. Even as Vieira de Mello arranged food deliveries, organized refugee returns, or negotiated with warlords, he pressed his colleagues to join him in grappling with such questions as: When should killers be engaged, and when should they be shunned? When is military force justified? How can outsiders play a role in healing broken people and broken places? Vieira de Mello did not have the luxury of simply posing these questions; he had to find answers, apply them, and live with the consequences. "Chasing the Flame" brings us deep into the thorniest episodes of recent world history. We wade into the conflagration in the Middle East by joining Vieira de Mello on his troubleshooting assignment in Lebanon after Israel's 1982 invasion. We see the lasting damage done by the proxy wars of the Cold War as we watch Vieira de Mello try to tame the murderous Khmer Rouge. We relive the explosion of sectarian and ethnic militancy as we track his efforts to negotiate an end to the slaughter in Bosnia and the reign of genocidal 'refugee warriors' in Congo. We grasp the complexity of rebuilding and governing war-torn societies as we endure the frustrations of his quasi-colonial governorships of Kosovo and East Timor. And we see how terrorism was fueled and Iraq was lost, by witnessing his struggles as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and as UN representative in Baghdad, where he fell victim to the country's first major suicide bomb. Readers of "Chasing the Flame" will recognize the particular mixture of deep reporting and incisive analysis that Samantha Power uses to mine Vieira de Mello's life for the lessons it offers each of our own. In this gripping and finely reasoned book, Power reveals Sergio Vieira de Mello's powerful legacy of pragmatism and humanity in an age sorely in need of both.
Publishers Weekly, 2007-12-24 The death of the charismatic Brazilian chief of the U.N. Mission to Iraq in a 2003 terrorist bombing symbolized both the U.N.'s haplessness--he died because rescuers lacked the training and equipment to free him from the rubble--and its idealism. In this sprawling biography, Vieira de Mello's life symbolizes the tragic contradictions of coping with humanitarian crises. Journalist Power, author of the Pulitzer-winning The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, follows Vieira de Mello through a U.N. career spent in hot spots like Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. His tasks were many: implementing peace accords, settling refugees, overseeing elections, running the government of East Timor. In each posting, he confronts a hydra-headed monster of communal violence and poverty, plus difficulties compounded by U.N. red tape, miserly budgets and uncaring Western governments. Agonizing dilemmas abound. Should refugees be fed or sent home? Should U.N. peacekeepers observe or intervene? Should past atrocities be prosecuted or overlooked? Playing by ear, Vieira de Mello charts an erratic course through these conundrums. Sometimes he's a human rights zealot, sometimes he cozies up to the Khmer Rouge; sometimes he negotiates with the Serbs, sometimes he wants to bomb them. Vieira de Mello comes off as a charming diplomat, a canny politician and an inspiring leader, and the author celebrates his flexibility and pragmatism (while criticizing his failures). Power wants to extract lasting lessons for the international community's efforts to head off humanitarian catastrophes and mend failed states from his experience. Unfortunately, it's hard to discern through his improvisations any systematic approach to nation building or to such vexed issues as humanitarian military intervention and regime change. The lack of perspective isn't helped by the biographical format, as the peripatetic Vieira de Mello jets from one conflagration to the next, then on to a romantic getaway with a mistress or to give a murky speech on Kant. We get the impression that U.N. missions are inevitably a hopeless muddle unless Sergio, with his unique talents, parachutes in to fix things; the book may thus inadvertently encourage critics of the U.N.-style interventionism that Power supports. Readers will gain an appreciation of Vieira de Mello's gifts, but not the method to his magic. B&w photos. (Mar. 6) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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