Monthly Archives: April 2009
Sam Stein listens in on a conference call in which National Security Council Director for Multi-lateral Affairs Samantha Power explains to American Jewish leaders the Obama administration’s hang-ups about participating in the UN anti-Racism Durban Review Conference next week.
The current working text, she said “met two of our four red lines frontally, in the sense that it went no further than reparations and it did drop all references to Israel and all anti-Semitic language. But it continued to reaffirm, in toto, Durban I. And while it did drop specific references to defamation, it continues to include very problematic language on incitement… that are out of line with core U.S. commitments to free speech. So that’s where we have been for a couple weeks, with a text that is dramatically improved… [but] also ratifies the U.S. decision to walk away in the sense that it did seem to spur the other delegations to go back to the drawing board… We have not reengaged in any kind of formal way with this process. Our red lines remain our red lines… In order for us to participate in the negotiations, to sit behind the placard, to be involved in a frontal way, much more would need to be done. And all four of our red lines will need to be met.” [emphasis mine]
This sounds to me like the Obama administration is setting the kind of “preconditions to negotiation” that candidate Obama so eloquently sought to remove from the catalogue of American diplomacy.
The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has never been confused for a hotbed of international diplomacy — the weather is hot, yes, but the diplomacy, not so much. As I prepared to head down to T&T to take up a diplomatic assignment a few years ago, a colleague with a full 15 years in the State Department looked at my name tag, which indicated my upcoming assignment, and said, “Port of Spain, now that’s one I’ve never heard of, where is that?”
So, as President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban and the rest of the hemisphere’s leaders get ready for this year’s Summit of the Americas, more than a few staffers, diplomats and journalists will be pulling out their atlases. One thing I’m sure they’ll find in Trinidad is warm hospitality and, if they step away from the formal events, a good lime (more on that later). But, they will also find a small country facing many of the difficult issues that the Obama administration is currently trying to tackle.
USA Today reported this morning on some USAID-funded projects that, shall we say, did not go so well. From reading the article, though, one might be forgiven for assuming that the UN had simply “wasted” all the U.S. taxpayer dollars that went to Afghanistan, throwing them away on building “shoddy” bridges and incomplete buildings.
Well, that might make a nice Fox News talking point, to conveniently demonize the whole UN system, but the reality is a little more complex, as it always is with construction in conflict zones. First, nobody — including nobody at the UN — is denying that certain UN employees engaged in inexcusable corruption, or in misbehavior that resulted in such unusable construction projects. Furthermore, the UN Development Program (UNDP) is not at all trying to cover up these improprieties; rather, it has fully supported investigation and appropriate actions in response.
But even this goes beyond the central point: when the “quick impact” reconstruction projects at issue began in Afghanistan in 2003, it was USAID that approached UNDP. Since then, UNDP has successfully implemented projects using USAID and U.S. State Department contributions of over $300 million, with not a complaint from either side. The vast majority of the bridges, buildings, hospitals, and other infrastructure projects that UNDP supervised have been created without a hitch. These projects have benefitted the Afghan people that they serviced, as well as the thousands for whom they have provided gainful employment, which was really the implicit point of the whole program to begin with. And thanks to UNDP’s organizational assistance, Afghans were able to vote in the country’s historic free elections — as they will again this August, in the presidential and provincial elections that UNDP is also helping to prepare for.
Flawed construction projects that used USAID funding — or any funding, for that matter — are unacceptable. UNDP officials will have to take these allegations seriously and investigate them fully. But even a few bad apples (or bridges) are not reason enough to demean an organization that has done more for the Afghan people than most Americans probably realize.
(image of UN Office for Project Services construction project in Afghanistan)
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will attend next week’s United Nations conference on racism in Geneva, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
To which I respond: so? This is not really news; did anyone really doubt that the spotlight-loving Ahmadinejad, who wastes his yearly appearances at the UN General Assembly to issue incoherent and digressive rants, would want try to subvert this occasion by bloviating about his favorite anti-Semitic conspiracy theories?
But why let him? By attending the conference, setting down with other countries to get to work, and resolutely ignoring the juvenile distractions on the sidelines, the United States could both marginalize Ahmadinejad and actually help advance the cause of anti-racism. By working together and compromising, it’s worth mentioning, is how countries came together on what even Durban skeptics acknowledge is a vastly improved document to form the basis of the Geneva conference.
If Ahmadinejad wants to show up, let him. If attention’s focused on his diatribes, maybe it will be all the easier to get something productive out of Geneva.
Now that the six-party talks have turned into a platform for infringing upon the sovereignty of the DPRK and seeking to force the DPRK to disarm itself and bring down the system in it, the DPRK will never participate in the talks any longer, nor will it be bound to any agreement of the six-party talks.
Esther Brimmer, a.k.a., the multilateralism-revitalizer:
She has more good things to say about improving the U.S.-UN relationship here.
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.