Monthly Archives: January 2009
I have no reason to believe that this Heritage Foundation “Backgrounder” from last week, on reforming creating unnecessary new international institutions, has made any splash in the foreign policy world whatsoever, but at the least, it reveals the interesting founding myth that Heritage has concocted for the UN.
The United Nations was supposed to enable Western powers like the United States to lead the world in securing peace; yet after the addition of scores of new members to its political body, the General Assembly, it has seemed more intent on curbing rather than
accommodating U.S. leadership.
Get that? The point of the UN, from the get-go, according to author Kim Holmes, has been to “enable” and “accomodate” the United States. As equal members of an organization formed with the vision of harnessing global cooperation toward peace and prosperity, the other original 51 member states — as well as the 141 since — may reasonably object to Holmes’ blithe characterization of the institution as an American puppet.
The United States is undeniably the world’s largest power. As such, it carries the unavoidable responsibility — and opportunity — of global leadership. And in 1945, as in 2009, the UN looks to and relies on that U.S. leadership. But the UN is not merely a vehicle for U.S. superpowerdom. Just as there is much for which the UN looks to the United States, the U.S. clearly needs the United Nations for various important global projects, ones that, like, say, peacekeeping in Lebanon or eradicating world hunger, the United States should not or cannot accomplish on its own. While U.S. leadership can help on some of these issues, it is by no means a prerequisite for all, and, though Holmes might not like to admit it, other member states also often emerge as important leaders in UN initiatives.
One of the more widespread criticisms of U.S. policy toward the UN in the early Bush era, climaxing with John Bolton’s tenure as ambassador, was that it too often treated the UN as, at best, a plaything to be used only when its legitimacy could be leveraged to support U.S. causes. Typically, defenders of this policy will demean the UN as ineffective, unnecessary, or ornery; rarely does one see a justification as blunt as Holmes’: that the UN exists solely to support — “accomodate,” again, is his shocking word — U.S. objectives. His attitude is one of paranoid indignity, at the rubber stamp that dared not defer to its supreme benefactor.
Not only is this cursory assessment an utter mischaracterization of the UN’s work and purpose, but it creates an entirely unproductive dynamic in UN policymaking. Even a cynic would concur that not every decision at the UN boils down to a choice between “curbing” or “accomodating” U.S. leadership. Most decisions are in fact based on what each country, for whatever its reasons, views in its best interests. And sometimes — particularly when the United States acts as a willing partner and an eager, but not presumptive, leader — these countries can work around their differences and push policy in a direction that just might actually benefit those it is supposed to benefit.
This is my third annual posting of this World Food Program Superbowl ad from Superbowl XLI featuring New Orleans Saints star Reggie Bush. It never gets old.
Consider supporting the World Food Program as you watch the Pittsburgh Steelers crush the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
And for viewers outside the United States who have never heard of Reggie Bush, this message should resonate a bit more clearly. Here’s FIFA star Ronaldhino.
While Iceland’s stupendous financial meltdown apparently doomed its front-runner status in October’s elections to the UN Security Council, the European Union evidently has no such qualms about admitting the country.
Iceland could win early European Union membership, a top European Commission official was quoted as saying on Friday, amid expectations it will apply for entry to help stave off its financial crisis.
“The EU prefers two countries joining at the same time rather than individually. If Iceland applies shortly and the negotiations are rapid, Croatia and Iceland could join the EU in parallel,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
Joining the EU is a turnaround from Iceland’s earlier wariness toward acceding to the body, but I guess that’s what a new government and a crippling financial crisis can do to a country. Just to be sure, though, maybe Reykjavik should slip some of those tasty Icelandic pancakes down to Brussels…
This is very exciting news. The Pulitzer prize winning author of “‘A Problem From Hell’: America in the Age of Genocide” and “Chasing the Flame,” a biography of slain UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, was just appointed the Senior Director of Multi-lateral Affairs at the National Security Council. This means she will have a direct hand in formulating U.S. policy on the United Nations, G-8, and other global forums.
The MSM is predictably honing in on “monster-gate,” which is sort of silly considering she has apologized profusely for the comment and Secretary of State Clinton has accepted her apology and everyone seems willing and eager to move on.
The real story here is will Samantha Power take to working in government? In “A Problem From Hell” (which is probably number one on my list of all-time best foreign policy books) Power describes how government is not well structured to respond effectively to humanitarian crises. Part of the problem, she shows, is that individuals in government sometimes react to these crises in politically expedient ways that do not do much to address or reverse ongoing genocide or mass atrocity. This is less a critique of specific individuals than it is a condemnation of American foreign policy making more generally. Now that she is embedded in the U.S. foreign policy making apparatus the big question on my mind is whether or not she falls victim to the very processes she criticizes so ably in her book.
I’m tempted to think that she will not be much of a quiet Mandarin. The heroes of her book are people who rail against the system–people like Raphael Lempkin who coined the word genocide, and Senator William Proxmire, who gave daily speeches on the senate floor on the need to ratify the Genocide Convention. She shows real admiration for these agents of change, and I suspect that she will be an important advocate for human rights in critical inter-agency debates. The thing is, in her book she describes how voices like that get effectively silenced by the bureaucracy and I imagine there will be situations in which her ideals bump against the realities of bureaucratic politics. How will she respond? We will have to wait and see.
Above all, though, her appointment may signal a more fulsome U.S engagement on issues like Darfur and Eastern Congo–two of the worst ongoing mass atrocities in the world. That would be a big change over the past eight years. With a giant like Power overseeing policy making on the UN — and the UN is where solutions to Congo and Darfur are most effectively discussed and implemented — I am optimistic that we will see more sustained attention paid to these issues at top levels of government. That would be change I can believe in.
I wish her the best in her new job.
Provincial elections in Iraq will take place on Saturday, but early voting has already begun for some groups. Check out this video to see some of the measures that UN and Iraqi officials have taken to prevent fraud (that purple ink is not just for style).
The Washington Post reports considerably less violence in the run-up to these elections than to that of their historic predecessor three years ago. But I don’t care what the Post says; that ink looks more purple than blue to me.
I have a column in the American Prospect online today arguing that the forthcoming International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al Bashir gives the Obama administration an opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough on Darfur.
In the coming weeks, Darfur will reach yet another crisis point when the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues an arrest warrant for President Omar al Bashir of Sudan. When this happens, President Bashir has all but promised retaliation — against United Nations personnel in Sudan, against Darfuris, and against southern Sudanese separatists. This much we know. What is still unclear is how the Obama administration intends to respond.
Susan Rice, the new United States ambassador to the United Nations, once aptly described the previous administration’s Darfur policy as “bluster and retreat,” “bluster” for the lip service paid to the issue, and “retreat” for never following up its tough rhetoric with meaningful political, diplomatic, or even military action. Now, with Rice at the U.N. and Hillary Clinton at the helm in Foggy Bottom, one would suspect bumbling Bush-era policies would come to an end. Both women have been strong advocates for a more robust approach to the Darfur crisis. Clinton was an early sponsor of Darfur legislation in the Senate. Rice has written on numerous occasions about the issue, at one point even endorsing U.S. airstrikes.
Still, the forthcoming ICC arrest warrant will pose an early test for the Obama administration. And if approached with the kind of deft diplomatic touch that the previous administration clearly lacked, the prospects for peace in Darfur may suddenly become brighter.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.