A DECAYING BODY
The U.N.? Who Cares?
Kofi Annan & Co. might as well move to Brussels or Geneva.
BY VICTOR DAVIS HANSON
Thursday, September 23, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT
These are surreal times. Americans in Iraq are beheaded on videotape. Russian children are machine-gunned in their schools. The elderly in Israel continue to be blown apart on buses. No one--whether in Madrid, Istanbul, Riyadh, Bali, Tel Aviv or New York--is safe from the Islamic fascist, whose real enemy is modernism and Western-inspired freedom of the individual.
Despite the seemingly disparate geography of these continued attacks, we are always familiar with the similar spooky signature: civilians dismembered by the suicide belt, car bomb, improvised explosive device and executioner's blade. Then follows the characteristically pathetic communiqué or loopy fatwa aired on al-Jazeera, evoking everything from the injustice of the Reconquista to some mythical grievance about Crusaders in the holy shrines. Gender equity in the radical Islamic world is now defined by the expendable female suicide bomber's slaughter of Westerners.
In response to such international lawlessness, our global watchdog, the United Nations, had been largely silent. It abdicates its responsibility of ostracizing those states that harbor such mass murderers, much less organizes a multilateral posse to bring them to justice. And yet under this apparent state of siege, President Bush in his recent address to the U.N. offered not blood and iron--other than an obligatory "the proper response is not to retreat but to prevail"--but Wilsonian idealism, concrete help for the dispossessed, and candor about past sins. The president wished to convey a new multilateralist creed that would have made a John Kerry or Madeleine Albright proud, without the Churchillian "victory at any cost" rhetoric. Good luck.
For years, gay-rights activists and relief workers in Africa have complained that the U.S. did not take the lead in combating the world-wide spread of AIDS. President Bush now offers to spearhead the rescue of the world's infected, with $15 billion in American help in hopes that the world's financial powers--perhaps Japan, China and the European Union--might match or trump that commitment.
Nongovernmental organizations clamor about the unfairness of world trade that left the former Third World with massive debts run up by crooked dictators and complicit Western profiteers. President Bush now talks not of extending further loans to service their spiraling interest payments, but rather of outright grants to clean the slate and thus offer the impoverished a new start.
International women's rights groups vie for the world's attention to stop the shameful international trafficking in women and children, whether as chattel or sexual slaves. The president now pledges to organize enforcement to stop both the smugglers and the predators on the innocent.
For a half century, liberals rightly deplored the old realpolitik in the Middle East, as America and Europe supported autocratic right-wing governments on the cynical premises that they at least promised to keep pumping oil and kept out communists. Now President Bush not only renounces such past opportunism, but also confesses that "for too long, many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused, oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability." He promises not complacency that ensures continual oppression, but radical changes that lead to freedom.
The Taliban and Saddam Hussein were once the United Nations' twin embarrassments, rogue regimes that thumbed their noses at weak U.N. protestations, slaughtered their own, invaded their neighbors, and turned their outlands into terrorist sanctuaries. Now they are gone, despite either U.N. indifference or veritable opposition to their removal. The United States sought not dictators in their place, but consensual government where it had never existed.
What was the response to Mr. Bush's new multifaceted vision? He was met with stony silence, followed by about seven seconds of embarrassed applause, capped off by smug sneers in the global media. Why so?
First, the U.N. is not the idealistic postwar organization of our collective Unicef and Unesco nostalgia, the old perpetual force for good that we once associated with hunger relief and peacekeeping. Its membership is instead rife with tyrannies, theocracies and Stalinist regimes. Many of them, like Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, have served on the U.N.'s 53-member Commission on Human Rights. The Libyan lunocracy--infamous for its dirty war with Chad and cash bounties to mass murderers--chaired the 2003 session. For Mr. Bush to talk to such folk about the need to spread liberty means removing from power, or indeed jailing, many of the oppressors sitting in his audience.
Second, urging democratic reforms in Palestine, as Mr. Bush also outlined, is antithetical to the very stuff of the U.N., an embarrassing reminder that nearly half of its resolutions in the past half-century have been aimed at punishing tiny democratic Israel at the behest of its larger,more populous--and dictatorial--Arab neighbors. The contemporary U.N., then, has become not only hypocritical, but also a bully that hectors Israel about the West Bank while it gives a pass to a nuclear, billion-person China after swallowing Tibet; wants nothing to do with the two present dangers to world peace, a nuclear North Korea and soon to follow theocratic Iran; and idles while thousands die in the Sudan.
Third, the present secretary-general, Kofi Annan, is himself a symbol of all that is wrong with the U.N. A multibillion dollar oil-for-food fraud, replete with kickbacks (perhaps involving a company that his own son worked for), grew unchecked on his watch, as a sordid array of Baathist killers, international hustlers and even terrorists milked the national petroleum treasure of Iraq while its own people went hungry. In response, Mr. Annan stonewalls, counting on exemption from the New York press on grounds of his unimpeachable liberal credentials. Meanwhile, he prefers to denigrate the toppling of Saddam Hussein as "illegal," but neither advocates reinstitution of a "legal" Saddam nor offers any concrete help to Iraqis crafting consensual society. Like the U.N. membership itself, he enjoys the freedom, affluence and security of a New York, but never stops to ask why that is so or how it might be extended to others less fortunate.
Our own problems with the U.N. should now be viewed in a context of ongoing radical change here in the United States, as all the previous liberal assumptions of the past decades undergo scrutiny in our post 9/11 world. There are no longer any sacred cows in the eyes of the American public. Ask Germany and South Korea as American troops depart, Saudi Arabia where bases are closed, and the once beaming Yasser Arafat, erstwhile denizen of the Lincoln Bedroom, as he now broods in his solitary rubble bunker.
Deeds, not rhetoric, are all that matter, as the once unthinkable is now the possible. There is no intrinsic reason why the U.N. should be based in New York rather than in its more logical utopian home in Brussels or Geneva. There is no law chiseled in stone that says any fascist or dictatorial state deserves authorized membership by virtue of its hijacking of a government. There is no logic to why a France is on the Security Council, but a Japan or India is not. And there is no reason why a group of democratic nations, unapologetic about their values and resolute to protect freedom, cannot act collectively for the common good, entirely indifferent to Syria's censure or a Chinese veto.
So Americans' once gushy support for the U.N. during its adolescence is gone. By the 1970s we accepted at best that it had devolved into a neutral organization in its approach to the West, and by the 1980s sighed that it was now unabashedly hostile to freedom. But in our odyssey from encouragement, to skepticism, and then to hostility, we have now reached the final stage--of indifference. Americans do not get riled easily, so the U.N. will go out with a whimper rather than a bang. Indeed, millions have already shrugged, tuned out, and turned the channel on it.
Mr. Hanson, a military historian, is a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.
Get the US out of the UN!!
Get the UN out of the US!!!
And make them pay for their parking tickets while you're at it!
And take away their unauthorized full-auto weapons.