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On Top of the World

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This precision stands in stark contrast to Bush's use of language -- his invocation of a "crusade," for instance, sent the world reeling. "It's surprising Washington doesn't know the effect of such statements," says Prendergast. "Ever since Rumsfeld said he didn't know if the U.S. could capture bin Laden, my impression is that the Taliban's morale has risen! They lap up these unsolicited comments."

There are moments that echo in the corridors of the U.N. and deeply shape perceptions there that most Americans have never heard of. One example: On May 12, 1996, 60 Minutes aired a Lesley Stahl segment filmed in Iraq in which she was surrounded by dying, fly-ridden children. Back in the studio, Stahl said to Madeleine Albright, then the ambassador to the U.N., "We've heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. Is the price worth it?" Albright looks her in the eye and says, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it." That clip is still shown frequently around the world.

The lack of coverage in the U.S. is also a sore point. "It seemed in all those pages after the attacks, maybe a column could have been found to say what we were up to," says Mortimer, a former foreign-affairs editor of the Financial Times. "We have a branding problem," says an aide.

Sitting at his desk, with its view out over the East River toward Queens, Annan is talking about the new world. "I would hope we've all learned something since the 11th of September," he says. "There are issues in this world today that no one country, however powerful, can solve alone."

Annan's term is up in 2006. Nane says they have discussed settling in Ghana when he retires to open a tomato-processing plant. Tribal leaders asked him a few years ago if he would consider becoming Paramount Chief of Akwamu; he declined. For now his work is here, in what he likes to call the house -- his house. "It's a long-term proposition," he says, his hand pulling at his graying goatee. "And some of the traditional problems are still with us -- poverty, ignorance, education. These are issues we should focus on much more aggressively than we've done so far."


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