No faces were more sullen the day after the election than those of the diplomats and bureaucrats skulking around the halls of the United Nations. Secretary-General Kofi Annan eked out a brief statement last Wednesday in which he “warmly congratulate[d] President Bush on his re-election” and pledged his “commit[ment] to continuing to work with President Bush and his administration on the whole range of issues facing the United Nations and the world.” Though such U.N. doublespeak rarely raises eyebrows anymore, one element of the “political capital” that the president received upon reelection warrants some plain language.
President Bush has a mandate to rethink American relations with the United Nations.
The campaign gave voters two clear alternatives. Senator Kerry’s would-be foreign policy was based on a “global test” that involved dealing “at length with the United Nations,” in marked contrast to the president’s position that American interests diverge in important respects from U.N. proclivities. The president reminded voters of a decade of U.N. huffing and puffing on Iraq and of the dangers of political adventurism by the U.N.’s International Criminal Court. Then the American people chose.
The campaign also smoked out something more sinister than impotence or ineptitude at Turtle Bay, namely, a U.N. secretariat dedicated to undermining the president’s success. Their tactics should not be forgotten in the wake of their ultimate failure. There was the U.N. refusal of American protection for U.N. officials in Iraq, minimal support for Iraqi-election preparation and institution-building, the venting of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s personal belief that the war on Iraq was illegal. And in the last weeks of the campaign, the director general of the U.N.’s Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed El-Baradei, sought to draw as much attention as he could to weapons missing from the Iraqi facility at Al-Qaqaa for the last 18 months and representing a fraction of the munitions destroyed and secured since the fall of Saddam Hussein. With a Gallup poll on the eve of the election saying eight of ten Americans were following the issue of the missing explosives closely and that 58 percent were apportioning at least a moderate amount of blame to the president, a 6,200 U.N. staff in the middle of America’s largest metropolis with a 3.16 billion-dollar biennium budget for 2004-05 is a force to be reckoned with.
The day of reckoning has come. In an election that turned so much on values, what values does the U.N. promote? To name a few, the U.N.’s primary human-rights body, the Commission on Human Rights, includes such role models as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Not surprisingly, of 86 separate votes held at the 2004 Commission, the U.S. was in the minority 85 percent of the time. Reports estimate that more than two million people have been killed in Sudan over two decades of conflict, 70,000 have been murdered in the Darfur region since March, and another 1.6 million persons are currently displaced. But there has been no U.N. General Assembly emergency session on Sudan, just as there wasn’t for Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. That’s because the Assembly’s emergency sessions are reserved for denouncing Israel, the “tenth” emergency session having now been “reconvened” 13 times in the past seven years. Instead, the U.N. has sent a commission of inquiry to Sudan to “determine whether or not acts of genocide have occurred or are still occurring” and to report in three months. Zhila Izadi, a 13-year-old Iranian girl, is currently under a sentence of death by stoning for the crime of being raped and impregnated by her brother. But the U.N. response to a criminal “justice” system that stones, amputates limbs, and publicly hangs children was to abolish the post of U.N. investigator of human-rights violations in Iran in April 2002. So much for values.
In the past four years, largely as a result of the predilections of Secretary of State Colin Powell, American policy toward the U.N. has been inconsistent. Unfettered American handling of Arab-Israeli diplomacy has been modified by Powell, Annan, and the EU. They spawned the quartet with its promise to make the U.N. itself an indispensable player, despite its gross bias against Israel. The president told the U.N. in September 2002 that there had to be serious consequences for the failure of Iraq to abide by a decade of Security Council resolutions, but then spent six months lending credence to the view that the Council’s approval for imposing those consequences was required.
The differences between the president’s and the U.N.’s agenda should no longer be papered over. Success in the war against terrorism requires identifying the enemy. The U.N. has no definition of terrorism. Close to a third of its members actively participate in the Organization of the Islamic Conference and stand in the way of a comprehensive convention against terrorism or any resolution that would unequivocally condemn the use of all available means in the name of a struggle for self-determination.
Success requires an accurate assessment of priorities. The U.N. thinks the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the greatest impediment to world order–not a nuclear Iran, not a bellicose North Korea, not the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists, and not violent Islamic fundamentalism.
Success depends on distinguishing causes from effects. The U.N. claims the root cause of militant Islamic terrorism the world over is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, while in fact the occupation results from failed (and continuing) Arab attempts to destroy the Jewish state.
And success depends on an accurate assessment of responsibility. The U.N. Arab Human Development Report says “Arab countries…evince the lowest levels of freedom among the world regions compared…. When it comes to voice and accountability, the Arab region still ranks lowest in the world.” The report notes “the virtual absence of good governance,” “the relative backwardness of the Arab region in this vital area” of “knowledge acquisition, absorption and use.” But when it came to assigning responsibility, the report points a finger at “the severe impediment of human development” caused by “the Israeli occupation of Palestine” and explains that “the issue of freedom in Arab countries has become a casualty of the overspill from the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.”
On every one of these counts–the names of the terrorists and their state sponsors, renouncing terrorism and committing to democratic reform first, the refusal to answer the question of “why do they hate us?” by self-flagellation, and the placement of responsibility directly at the feet of the despots–President Bush has staked out a dramatically different course from that of the U.N. Therefore it is time that U.S. taxpayers had an in-depth accounting of the 22 percent of the U.N. budget that comes from their blood, sweat, and tears.
–Anne Bayefsky is an international lawyer and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.