Plop in the middle of the entangled, entangling, impossible mess of the United Nations, where Kofi Annan’s ego attempts achingly to overswell diurnal scandals (this morning’s–”Swiss Firm Suspected of Fraud/Paid U.N. Chief’s Son $50,000″), enters John C. Danforth. This resolute human being, who only four months ago became U.S Ambassador to the United Nations, announced that he was quitting. Why? And why at this time? Because, he said, he wants to be home. He needs to spend more time with his wife, Sally. “Forty-seven years ago,” Mr. Danforth wrote to the president, “I married the girl of my dreams, and, at this point in my life, what is most important to me is to spend more time with her. Because you know Sally, you know my reason for going home.”
Well, if we knew Sally like John knows Sally, we’d perhaps simply ignore all other considerations before the house. But we don’t, and are therefore driven to pause over other matters that might have entered the mind of John Danforth when he decided to pull out.
Pause, first, for an aerial view of the scene:
The secretary general is pretty universally discredited by a money scandal which some estimate as perhaps the largest in human history. It is a scandal that has so immobilized normal respiratory practices that Paul Volcker himself, the most direct and fearless public official in recent history, is tongue-tied. He appears to be hiding behind remote technicalities in order to serve the U.N., whose secretariat is of course the agent of Kofi Annan, who is the primary defendant in the whole mess.
There are no less than five Congressional committees living on the tether’s end of patience for failure to get cooperation from the U.N. on a matter of far-reaching concern. Is it possible that some of the $20 billion routed and re-routed from the sale of Iraqi oil, ostensibly collected to buy bread for starving Iraqis, has ended up by financing the insurgents who kill U.S. Marines every day?
But the framework is even wider, as the files on Senator Danforth quickly reveal. New York Times correspondent Warren Hoge advises that it was actually the day after he wrote his private letter of resignation that Danforth publicly criticized the United Nations “in an unusually brash denunciation of a move in the General Assembly to cut off a motion that would have criticized human rights violations in Sudan, which the United States has called genocide.”
Danforth declaimed, “One wonders about the utility of the General Assembly on days like this. One wonders, if there can’t be a clear and direct statement on matters of basic principle, why have this building [in New York City]? What is it all about?”
The question of legitimacy dogs the U.N. For years it has been so, living lopsidedly on the arbitrary allocations of membership in the Security Council done in San Francisco in 1945. But these distortions, and others — notably the victimization of Israel, and the coddling of Castro-Cuba — diminished in strategic consequence because the Cold War swept away everything in its path, generating among other things the undenied and undeniable legitimacy of U.S. leadership of the free world.
That has changed. Europe’s security from Soviet imperialism has led to the delegitimization of the U.S. as inherent and singular leader in policy making on international problems. That is the reason for Europe’s refusal to back our venture in Iraq. It isn’t that Germany and France objected to troops in Iraq. They objected to their being dispatched there other than by an organization, the U.N., in which France exercised a veto power.
The survival, in its present shape, of a U.N. pockmarked by the charter of 1945 may not be in question: nobody’s about to rescind the U.N. But its prestige is at rock-bottom low. Its hypocrisy was sensed and indeed articulated by John Danforth, and its bureaucratic self-interest is reinforced by Kofi Annan’s refusal to resign. It is a true mess, and whatever our concern for Sally, the world joins in asking, with John Danforth, “What is it all about?”