Tom's Reviews > Chasing The Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World

Chasing The Flame by Samantha Power
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's review
Aug 16, 2010

liked it
Read from August 16 to September 09, 2010

A very good book that somewhat radically changed my notion of what the UN does and its importance. A few points really struck me:

• Member nations seem silly when they attack the UN for being weak. The UN is exactly as strong if they want it to be. If member nations wanted the UN to be stronger; they could make it stronger.
• The UN is constantly walking the line between humanitarian force and peacekeeping/security force. In areas of conflict, being too aggressive with their role as peacekeepers threatens the safety of their humanitarian workers and they may end up having to pull out humanitarian relief – thus literally leaving people for dead. Sure, they act like a bunch of weak sisters, but when they’re in the position of acting as peacekeepers with no buy-in from large nations, this is the best strategy to save as many lives as possible.
• You could argue Vieira de Mello maybe didn’t so much know the right way to build nations, but he certainly knew the wrong way. Here was a guy who knew the wrong way and he was a vastly under-utilized resource in Iraq.
• Anyone anywhere occupying a country for any reason should learn the language.

All in all I really enjoyed the book though, at a few times, when the author is critical of Sergio I think she pulls her punches a bit. She romanticizes the UN’s strange and dangerous need to go into Kosovo to confirm what everyone already knew. It’s a move only designed the keep the UN relevant in that conflict and it seems certain that it cost lives and recklessly risked lives. Say what you will about NATO but they don’t tend to bomb a nation without sufficient proof. That the UN felt like they also needed to be convinced seemed childish.

I think there were one or two examples like that where I felt Sergio unreasonably put the importance and prestige of the UN above the safety of others. Though, what I do like about this book is that it showed Sergio grow and learn. He got better at nation-building (for lack of a better term). His decisions in Cambodia and Kosovo were calculated but ultimately flawed; by the time he got to East Timor and Iraq, it was no longer his first rodeo.

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