Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Oil for Food for Thought, Or the Perpetual Fecklessness of the UN

Claudia Rosett has been indispensable on all matters related to the UN Oil-for-Food scandal. Through most of the affair, she's been the only journalist staying on the story. In a post on National Review Online, she dissects the first appearance of the Volcker Commission's report, fearing a relative whitewash, or more specifically as spreading of enough blame that no one in Turtle Bay is responsible. More particularly, she lays bare the foolhardiness of excusing Kofi Annan of any responsibility for the problem, and even more his hypocrisy in claiming that he wishes the program had never been "given" the program. Truth is, he begged for it.

But the issue here is larger than just this one scandal. It goes to the efficacy of the United Nations altogether. Let's name the great achievements of this vaunted organization. . . . You start. . . . I'm waiting. . . . No, go ahead. . . . What do you mean you can't think of anything? No, responding to the North Korean invasion of South Korea doesn't count. It wouldn't have happened if the Soviet delegation had been present at the Security Council meeting, and in any case the American military and the South Koreans themselves did all but a tiny portion of the fighting (huzzahs again for faithful Australia).

The truth is that the UN has done nothing but issue stamps, occupy valuable East Side real estate, and provide a luxurious setting from which corrupt diplomats from developing countries can send their kids to exclusive private schools. Remember Kosovo? All the UN could do in the face of ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe was . . . nothing. When Clinton was thwarted in the Security Council, he just ignored the UN and went to NATO to get the bombs falling for Algerian Kosovar liberation. Good for him. Bad for the UN.

When SWNID was a child, American schools indoctrinated students with the notion that the League of Nations was ineffective because (a) the United States shamefully refused to join; (b) its charter didn't allow resolutions authorizing military action. The UN was the Great Force for Peace because it had what the League didn't. But today even eight-year-olds would not believe that the UN compares favorably to the League. It's bankrupt of public confidence after two generations of fecklessness.

But the UN is not just an ineffective organization that needs to be reformed or replaced. It needs to be closed and nothing opened in its place. International organizations are by nature of the case largely ineffectual. Baroness Thatcher got it right: only nation states have the power to command the loyalty of people to do life's difficult tasks, like stopping bad guys. Yes, the power of the nation state can be used for evil. Democracy and human rights must be jealously guarded by the citizens who have them and nurtured by nations that have them in nations that don't. But if there is dirty work to be done, it is the Stars and Stripes, the Union Jack, even the French Tricolor to which people will respond with the determination to commit their lives, treasure and sacred honor, not that wimpy blue thing with the fifties-stylized map.

Oil-for-food may not be enough to do it, but let's hope it takes the world in the right direction, namely, to convert the UN headquarters into an upscale cooperative and get all the Undersecretaries of Horticultural Awareness from the People's Democratic Republic of Congirwandinesigolia off Roosevelt Island and back home in the guest room of the Self-Proclaimed President for Life plotting the next coup d'etat.


Tim said...

That should be required reading.

JB from CA said...

I once visited Congirwandinesigolia. Nice place, but I spent most of my time dodging bullets. I'll have to admit that the instability bothered me a bit, but I'm confident that they'll soon get things under control now that the U.N. has put them in charge of the committee on international peace.