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Lou Dobbs on “UN Anti-Blasphemy” Resolution, Gets Facts Wrong

A number of people have asked me about this Lou Dobbs/Christopher Hitchens segment, which aired Thursday night on CNN. There is a lively discussion about it over in the comments section on Blogging Heads. Despite Dobbs' hyperventilating, there is really not much to this. The 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Conferences periodically bring up some sort of anti-blasphemy resolution in UN forums. This done for domestic political consumption -- i.e. politicians in OIC countries table symbolic resolutions like this to curry favor with the religious right (sound familiar?). There's never been an anti-blasphemy resolution passed in the General Assembly and I don't expect there ever will be. The segment is full of factual inaccuracies -- mainly, there is no such thing as a "binding General Assembly resolution." Contra Dobbs, there are only two ways way the United Nations could impose anti-blasphemy laws on Americans. 1) Through some sort of anti-blashphemy treaty convention, which the president signs and the Senate ratifies. 2) If the Security Council (on which the United States holds veto power) orders member states to adopt anti-blasphemy laws by invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter. I would submit to you, dear reader, that both scenarios are highly unlikely. The UN thought police will stay put in their black helicopters for the time being. UPDATE: See this post for a correction and further thoughts on this issue.
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John Bolton at CPAC

American Enterprise Institute Fellow John Bolton stopped being relevant a long time ago. Still, its a wonder that op-ed editors tend to publish him at a rate of stark-raving mad op-ed a week. And don't miss Yglesias' legendary post in which he puts the "tiny" comment in context.
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The Durban Paranoia

Anne Bayefsky is still sputtering about the United States' cowardly decision not to pack its bags and fling them in the face of every other country interested in holding a meaningful conference on racism. Holding her nose, Bayefsky dives into the bureaucratic minutiae of the preparatory meetings to which -- gasp -- the United States decided to send a delegation and, unsurprisingly, is appalled by what she sees. The very Constitution is in jeopardy, in her frantic outlook, because the U.S. delegates did not reject out of hand the idea that countries should...wait for it...oppose hate speech. The provision in question:
States Parties condemn all propaganda and all organizations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and undertake to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination...
To assuage free speech concerns, the U.S. delegation made sure to cite a later provision reassuring "the right to freedom of opinion and expression." But far from calming Bayefsky, this only stokes her rage; by even referencing the UN's International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, rather than tearing it to pieces, the United States is, in her twisted paranoia, sacrificing its very sovereignty, and binding itself to the sordid agenda of the Durban Review Conference's more unsavory participants (the Irans and Cubas and North Koreas of the world that the Right will stare down so readily when it comes to military bluster, but to which they ascribe a bizarrely aggrandized influence when it comes to diplomacy). In a remarkable reverse-Orwellian feat, Bayefsky unconcernedly relies on assumptions that, when it comes to Durban, everything means exactly the opposite of what it appears to mean. Thus, the anti-racism conference is invariably a "racist confab," and any motion to curb hate speech is certainly an insidious attempt to eat away at our treasured principle of free speech. By ceding the territory of meaning to the conference's nefarious actors -- that Iran has an anti-Semitic agenda should come as no surprise to anyone -- Bayefsky is essentially stooping to their level. Human rights have meaning and value, and it would be encouraging to see skeptics like Bayefsky express some interest in strengthening the concept worldwide, instead of simply retreating and retrenching in America's own fortress of freedom.
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The UN Stimulus Package

Claudia Rosett, in a facetious commentary on why the United Nations should move to Elkhart, Indiana, seems to demonstrate a command of the facts that could politely be described as tenuous. She cites the cost of the UN Headquarters renovation (known in UN circles as the Capital Master Plan) at $2 billion. It is actually $1.88 billion, but I won't nitpick over an error of $120 million. The more egregious error is the insinuation first, that the U.S. is paying the entire bill, and second, that all expenditure on this renovation is a waste of taxpayer money. In fact, the U.S. share of the renovation costs is the same percentage it pays for the UN's regular budget: 22%. Now that is a large percentage, and comes out to roughly $414 million for the entire project. But consider that nearly every single contract and every single purchase related to the renovation has gone to an American company, and you'll see that more than $610 million have already gone into the American economy as a direct result of this project—and the project will continue until 2013. That's nearly a 68% return on investment for U.S. taxpayers with still more to come. In other words, it's a stimulus! All of this information is readily available, along with cost details for each expenditure, on the UN's Procurement website. Have a look yourself.
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If We Don’t Choose Failure, We Can At Least Try to Avoid It

In a back-and-forth about Nina Hachigian's TNR piece that Mark praised the other day, new FP blogger Dan Drezner relays Hachigian's effective response that working through international institutions will prove the only way to address major 21st century challenges.
But the evidence is mounting from events like 9-11, SARS, the Mumbai attacks, and freakish weather that if we don't work together, we sink together. And in order to work together most effectively, we need institutions. Yes, the current ones are flawed, sometimes deeply flawed. But they already carry our water on a regular basis and nearly zero political credit for doing so. Want to prevent an epidemic of drug resistant TB in the US? Need the WHO. Want to share the costs of bailing out a whole bunch of countries? The IMF is taking that on. Want to run schools in Gaza or elections in Iraq? Call the UN. You see my point. It's not that these institutions are a panacea. It's that they are necessary because we haven't figured out a better way to coordinate actions between governments...and they do deliver. If we invest in them modest amounts of time and money, they will pay further dividends in our security and prosperity.
Drezner had expressed some skepticism about the model that conservatives often caricature as "global governance," presenting the legitimate argument that, unless the spheres of interest of great powers sufficiently overlap, it will be exceedingly difficult to construct solutions on issues as internationally divisive as, for example, how to respond to global warming, or how to reform the Security Council. At the root of Drezner's skepticism is the game theory problem that, while the catastrophic effects of global warming will affect everyone, individual countries have a hard time responding to the imperative by taking the first step, and thus consensus is difficult to achieve. Drezner characterizes Hachigian's argument as one of "failure is not an option," but I think he is being unfair in parsing out the clarification that failure can only be an "outcome," not an "option." Clearly. The choice, per se, is not between successful nuclear non-proliferation and failed non-proliferation (though some, of course, might attempt to make an attempt for proliferation); it is between attempted non-proliferation and unattempted non-proliferation. International institutions come into play not because countries recognize that they do not want to "choose" failure, and not only because they represent the best -- and, as Hachigian convincingly expresses, only -- way to avoid failure, but also because they provide the best means for negotiating the way to move these long-term common global interests forward. This is not investing "diplomatic capital on hope," as Drezner interprets it, but on strengthening the mechanism by which the interests of various international actors are pressured into a certain direction. Now the final question that Drezner raises, whether the consensus that emerges out of such international negotiation will be a good one...well, there's the rub. But the potential for a less-good solution, or even a certifiably bad solution, no less decreases the absolute need to work together than the overwhelming difficulty of mustering any sort of effective response diminishes the enormity of a problem like global warming. It won't be easy to come to a "good" solution, and -- as climate talks in Poznan last December showed us -- the chances of reaching an ideal agreement are slim to none. But a little bit of give on all sides -- had the United States acceded to either of two very legitimate and agreeable proposals for Security Council reform in 1996, for example, we might have a very different-looking international order today -- can go a long way in securing a response that will be far, far better than no response at all.
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Portraits as Power

No surprises here. Claudia Rosett doesn't like Iran very much. Chief on her list of grievances? That Iran -- like just about every other country in the United Nations -- has contributed a gift to the organization's headquarters in New York.
In that lobby, by far the most prominent display is a row of eight portraits, framed in gold, and showing the lineup of secretaries-general from the U.N.'s founding at the end of World War II, through the current Ban Ki-Moon. But these are no ordinary portraits. Each is actually a silk carpet, and under the woven picture of each secretary-general, there appears the woven inscription: "Presented by the Islamic Republic of Iran."
ban portrait.jpg
If Iran's gift was "tailored to flatter the secretariat's top boss," then so was that of every other country that provided one. But in Rosett's tendentious logic, the gifts are telltale signs of bribery, corruption, and extortion -- attempts to ingratiate Iran into the inner circle of the UN. Its entrance in this inner circle is confirmed, in Rosett's tinted glasses, by its membership in such exclusive clubs as the G-77 -- whose members actually number 130 -- and the U.N. Agency for Human Settlements. Worse still is the fact that the UN Development Program -- of the "scandal" that never was, yet never seems to die-- dares to operate development initiatives to help the Iranian people. Along with those of 165 other countries. Because Iran is a member of the United Nations and some of its programs, because some of these programs work in Iran, and because some of the gifts in the UN building bear that odious stigma, "the Islamic Republic of Iran," Rosett sees reason for President Obama to "bypass the U.N. altogether" once in office. Perhaps she too should heed Max Boot's advice against "reflexive...antipathy to all things UN, as well as give the other 191 member states of the UN a little more credit. (image of the offending portraits from flickr user riacale under a Creative Commons license)
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Marty Peretz Should Listen to Max Boot

In the surprisingly supportive piece that Mark cites below, the conservative Boot urges his "compatriots on the right put aside their reflexive-and usually well-justified-antipathy to all things UN and think about how we can improve this organization's capacity." I would disagree with the "and usually well-justified" element of that advice, of course, but the rest seems rather sensible. Supporting and improving the UN so that it can succeed in endeavors that the United States would be loathe to take on itself -- huge projects like providing peacekeepers in DR Congo, yes, but also the lower-profile, but equally important, aspects of the UN's work, from promoting gender equality and providing vaccines all the way to regulating the flight paths of airplanes -- is very clearly in the United States' interests. Yet if you title a blog post, "If You Trust The U.N. On Anything You're A Fool," it's pretty clear that you are demonstrating just the sort of reflexive tarring of "all things UN" that Boot is cautioning against. Regardless of the validity of Marty Peretz's specific objections, this kind of blanket statement can't be anything but a patent exaggeration. Let's just hope that, for his own sake, Marty can muster up some tiny smidgeon of trust for the UN at least when he steps on a plane.
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Ignominious Misinformation

Marty Peretz , unsurprisingly, counts himself among those irreconcilably disgusted at the mere prospect of the Durban Review Conference. He seems, unfortunately, just as misguided and misinformed.
And [the Durban Review Conference] is already fixed to bring ignominy on Israel...and also shame and dishonor to the United Nations. Americans are truly disgusted with the U.N., and not only because of its treatment of Israel.
As I've articulated before -- and as everyone who has heard any of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rants can attest to -- it is not a surprise that Iran and some other countries and NGOs are going to mouth anti-Semitic statements. But doing so brings ignominy on no one other than themselves. And if Peretz is willing to heap "shame and dishonor" on the entire United Nations simply for the membership of this handful of "bad actors," he probably has a much bigger problem -- one that indicts the entire reigning system of sovereign states and international organizations writ large -- than with one single conference. Perhaps even more glaringly off-the-mark is Peretz's inference about popular American sentiment toward the UN. If he had read our polling [slideshow below], he would know that Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of working with the UN and other countries and international organizations. To accuse them of the opposite is to simply slather Peretz's own animus against the UN onto the millions of Americans who believe in the organization. And that, to me, seems truly ignominious.
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Quick Fact Check

Bloodthirsty Liberal calls the International Criminal Court "jew-hating" and says "they've never heard a complaint against Israel they haven't embraced." In fact, the International Criminal Court has never embraced any complaints against Israel. If the prosecutor did receive any complaints against Israel, he summarily rejected them. (Probably because Israel has not ratified the Rome Statute that created the court.) These inane casual accusations of antisemitism from people who don't know what they are talking about really need to be put to rest. UPDATE: In trying to "correct" this post, Bloodthirsty Liberal digs a deeper hole. Apparently, Bloodthirsty Liberal does not understand that the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. Rather, the writer refers multiple times to something called the International Criminal Court of Justice and conflates the work of the ICC with the ICJ. True, both are located in the same city, but that is about all they have in common.