Politics & Policy

The Perils of U.N.-ology

Why is the New York Times okay with dealing with tyrants?

Look: I think it’s dandy that Bush won the vote in the U.N. Security Council by 15 to 0. I think it’s peachy-keen the Arab League endorsed the resolution and called for Iraqi compliance. And it’s downright supercalifragilisticexpialidocious that Saddam Hussein has agreed to accept the resolution despite what he calls its “bad contents.”

But can we please stop kidding ourselves that this is some sort of moral victory for the United States?

Reading through the editorial pages over the last few days, you’d think U.N. credibility is more important than U.S. national security or Iraqi disarmament. Tom Friedman, for example, is almost giddy about the chances for a new “global norm” — and he’s a realist, by the standards of the New York Times. This vote may be a moral victory for the U.N. — since it’s normally a parliament of crapweasels — but it’s at best a tactical or strategic victory for the United States, and it remains to be seen whether the strategy will work. I think it will, ultimately, but I’m at a complete and total loss to understand why, for example, Syria’s approval of anything we’re doing is something to be proud of. Sure, Colin Powell should be jazzed about his diplomatic accomplishment. But getting the support of Syria is the moral equivalent of winning the Klan’s endorsement — it might be useful but it doesn’t necessarily speak well of you. At best we should praise Colin Powell the same way we praise the cop who convinces a criminal to put down his gun on the grounds that “we’re on the same side.”

What’s especially baffling is that the Left doesn’t see any of this. Imagine if all the seats on the Security Council were filled by the Left’s rogues’ gallery of evil dictators: Pic Botha, Augusto Pinochet, Franco, Hitler, etc. Would the Left cheer if the United States won their unanimous support? Would the New York Times get all choked up with emotion, like the verklempt yenta on Saturday Night Live, over Colin Powell’s triumph? Somehow I doubt it.

Maybe this is because there are almost no white and certainly no first-world dictators anymore, and black, Asian, and Arab tyrants simply don’t count in the eyes of the multicultural Left. In fact, I would bet that if you polled the average fair-trading, organically grown, earth-friendly, living-wage-paying coffeehouse in Seattle, or the typical opened-toed-shoe-wearing protester at an anti-globalization march, asking “Who comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘dictator’?” you’d get more George Bushes than Mugabes, Assads, and Jong-Ils combined.

Anyway, I’m not saying the Security Council is simply a posse of left-wing dictators and tyrants. My point is that it wouldn’t matter to the U.N. voluptuaries if it were. Why we should breathe easier knowing we got a green light from Cameroon is something nobody’s been willing to explain.

To liberals, the U.N. represents their loftiest goals of a peaceful and democratic global order where the peoples of the world set aside their differences in pursuit of our common interests as passengers on this, Spaceship Earth. To many conservatives, the U.N. represents the persistent obtuseness of liberals determined to put what ought to be ahead of what is.

Sure, it would be nice if the nations of the world, as represented on the Security Council, had concluded that Saddam is a repugnant and vile dictator who must be kept from further brutalizing his subjects and his neighbors. But that’s not what happened. We bought the votes of most of the Security Council members, and they were for sale precisely because these countries are incapable of looking beyond their own narrow self-interests — not because they transcended them. Cameroon cares far more about trade concessions from the U.S. than it does about who sits on the throne in Baghdad. Does any U.N.-loving liberal really believe that Cameroon went along because our cause is just — because the glorious spirit of human cooperation and global harmony filled the air at the U.N.? Well, then, read a frickin’ newspaper.

And I don’t mean to pick on Cameroon. By pleading for U.N. approval, the no-blood-for-oil crowd increased the international trade in both blood and oil. In order to get the votes of Russia and China we had to give those countries a free pass at killing their Muslim Chechen and Uighur populations, respectively. We also had to promise the continuity of France’s oil contracts, and of Russia’s too. Whether these countries think we’re right about toppling or containing Saddam is something of a mystery; what we do know is that they don’t think our case is compelling enough to trump their own narrow self-interests. If it were, we wouldn’t have had to spend the last couple of months haggling over what happens to Iraq’s debt to Russia or France’s oil contracts. Right? I mean, if the U.N. were half the thing it ought to be, our U.N. partners would have dropped those concerns the way Cincinnatus laid down his plow. And if the United States is as wrong and selfish as the anti-war crowd says, then the rest of the Security Council are just a bunch of whores willing to do the wrong thing if we pay them enough.

People from all across the political spectrum often make the argument that members of our own Congress are inclined to make back-room deals that serve the narrow interests of their parties and themselves. The Naderites consistently harp on how citizens are locked out of the process. “Republicrats,” according to this view, split the spoils and leave the rest of us holding the bag. Obviously, these arguments aren’t completely worthless, but they are usually overblown, since our politicians have to deal with fair elections and an aggressive free press.

Oddly, we don’t often hear the same analysis applied to the U.N. — even though the same dynamic is in effect there, only much more intensely. The representatives of the Arab nations — not one of them a democracy with a free press — do not represent the interests of their people. They represent the interests of the corrupt governments who sent them there. So in this sense, the U.N. is not an arena for democratic debate. It is a souk where merchants trade the blood and treasure of their nations.

We are seeking authorization to kill people if necessary — there’s no reason not to be blunt. And we bought it by giving authorization to others to do the same. I can live with that, I suppose, because I think the stakes warrant it. Why the New York Times can live with it remains a mystery.


1. Nick Gillespie and I have been debating whether or not war is the enemy of freedom. He went first yesterday. I went today. He goes tomorrow. You can probably figure out the pattern. I’ve been shocked by the lack of angry responses from libertarians, to tell you the truth.

2. The battle on the Northern Front continues. I’d say I’ve received nearly 1,000 e-mails on the Canadian story. If you’re not a Corner reader, you might head over there. I’ve posted some of the e-mails and charted the response in the Canadian press, which has been, um, energetic (one reason this column is so tardy today is that I forgot what I was going to write about after spending an hour with Canadian TV crews). One thing I will say is that I’ve been heartened by the generally shabby arguments from critics — other than a fair complaint, I suppose about the cover — and by the positive feedback from friendly Canuck fifth columnists.

3. I’m going to do a short piece on Canine Civilization for the magazine. I remember many of you sent me some great material. But I can’t find it. So if you have any ideas — especially historical and cross-cultural anecdotes — please send them my way with the subject header “Canine Civilization.”


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