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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Sunday, April 13, 2003

posted by Jazz at 4/13/2003 12:38:00 PM


April 13, 2003
Where's the Next Stop for the U.N. Train? Link

Were I to suddenly be given the opportunity and talent to work as an editorial cartoonist, I believe I would be depicting the United Nations as an angry old woman in a peasant dress, pushing her walker up to a meeting of the heads of state for the permanent members of the security council. Her handbag would be whirling in a threatening manner, as if she just might have a brick inside of it, and she'd be shouting for those damned kids to get off of her lawn and come down to just listen for a moment.

Sadly, most children these days simply hurl insults at old ladies and, laughing, run off to soap someone else's windows.

Following the amazingly rapid collapse of Iraq in the face of the military might wielded by the last remaining superpower on Earth, the United States stands at a crossroad of historic proportions. We are sending extremely mixed signals to the international community regarding our "master plan" for the future of foreign policy, and we need to to take this opportunity to clarify that message in a sane, rational manner.

While there may still be some dinosaurs here who long for a return to isolationist policies, it seems obvious that such a direction is neither viable nor safe, both in terms of military security and economic stability. This leaves us with two choices - we can either flatly claim the office of "Policeman to the World," or we can use our power and influence to build a true, global coalition of sovereign nations who will work together towards beneficial goals. But which direction is the underlying theme of the new "Bush Doctrine"? Colin Powell continues to make allusions which are quite contradictory in nature.

At times, he seems to be endorsing a globally enlightened view. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times he said, "We believe that all of these nations -- Syria, Iran, others -- should realize that pursuing weapons of mass destruction, supporting terrorist activities, is not in their interest. It doesn't mean that war is coming to them, it just means that the world is changing in the new century, where we have to deal with these kinds of threats.... It doesn't mean that the only consequence the American president can think of is to reach in the toolbox for the military."

Yet in the very same 48 hour period, he appeared on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost and stated, "We are concerned that materials have flowed through Syria to the Iraqi Regime over the years. We are making this point clearly and in a very direct manner to the Syrians. We think it would be very unwise ... if suddenly Syria suddenly becomes a haven for all these people who should be brought to justice who are trying to get out of Baghdad."

We've seen similar sine waves in the public stance of Donald Rumsfeld. Though his speech tends to lean far more towards the hawkish side, he still pays some lip service to the possibility of global cooperation. Such a mixture of beneficence and saber rattling must surely leave our global neighbors with a case of mental whiplash, wondering exactly what sort of brave new world we are trying to forge. But in which direction should we, as citizens, be influencing our government to go?

The shiny badge and crisp uniform of global cop is tempting fruit to many, no doubt. Years of our own propaganda and rhetoric have built up an American illusion that we are assuredly the "good guys." We are the cowboys in the white hats who know what is in everyone's best interest. And while we publicly avow that we dislike war, we sorrowfully acknowledge that it in some cases it might be the only way to bring justice to the bad people of the world. We also seem to be under some form of national mass hysteria which makes us think that the rest of the planet sees us in that light as well, with the exception of a few of the aforementioned notable bad guys, who only lack a firm dose of American righteous zeal to see the light.

But, as some of our more rustic speakers are wont to say, that dog simply won't hunt. Our popularity in other nations is undeniably at an all time low. There is a growing mistrust of the United States all over the world, and our recent shoddy treatment of other nations has earned us special enmity from a variety of global powers, while turning the credibility of the United Nations into a laughing stock. We have been chilly and dismissive to Russia and China, while flatly sending the French to stand in a corner and await their punishment when we're done rooting out Saddam's regime.

Future failures in diplomacy such as this can be avoided, but only if approached on a multilateral basis. As crippled as it is, the United Nations is the only vehicle we have for such processes. Let's face the fact - the U.N. is broken. But ignoring it (or worse, scrapping it entirely) leaves us only the role of setting the world into order as we see it by putting a hob-nailed boot on the throats of all other countries. The United Nations could be fixed, but it's going to require hard work and some compromise on the parts of many parties.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, in the Washington Post, offered some tantalizing suggestions on how to repair the U.N. and give it a new birth as a viable international instrument of resolving conflict. Her ideas centered primarily on their adopting new resolutions which clearly define the conditions where military intervention would be appropriate and justifiable in this new century with its previously unknown threats. It's a good plan, but I don't think it goes far enough. The ability of each of the permanent members of the security council to shut down any resolution via the veto is simply too powerful and restrictive. I believe it's time to amend the U.N.'s charter to allow "non-unanimous resolutions" to be passed, so long as a hefty majority of the voting members approve - perhaps three quarters. Such resolutions would lack the full diplomatic weight of a wholly unanimous resolution, but would still send a powerful message of solidarity, establish a base for broad coalitions when action is required, and prevent any one nation from silencing the international voice when a clear consensus is available. Changing the basic charter of the United Nations should not be viewed as an impossibility, or in some way invalidating its previous years of existence. Organizations of all kinds need to be flexible enough to evolve with the changing demands of the world. The United States has modified its own constitution twenty-seven times since the final draft was penned, and one of those was the reversal of an earlier amendment.

It is very likely, however, that some nations would see the loss of the absolute veto as too much of a threat to their sphere of control and power in the council. You might think, at first, that I am referring to Russia and China. And they might well oppose such a change. But remember this - the United States has vetoed more resolutions in the last ten years than many of us would care to imagine. The majority of them were resolutions aimed at actions by Israel which were deemed inappropriate. While such a change as I propose could finally put some teeth into the United Nations as a central source of international direction and cooperation, our own government might well be the first to reject such a move.

In any event, we need to stop doing backflips and establish exactly what our foreign policy is. The citizens of this country can not endorse or oppose the position taken by our government if we are kept in the dark as to what it is.