The first, that General Assembly president Miguel d’Escoto Brockman should be using his position less divisively. Rosett quotes d’Escoto as urging “a united nations, not a subjugated nations.” He then should work in support of fostering this unity, rather than grandstanding in Tehran to attack certain member states (you can guess which one) and to cleave an even deeper divide than already exists between those he calls “subjugated” and those he would decry as subjugators. d’Escoto is of course entitled to his personal views, but as the most visible representative of the United Nations’ all-inclusive body, he should concern himself more with facilitating global dialogue, mending differences, and creating a productive work atmosphere, rather than inflaming tensions and exacerbating existing hostilities. Still, Claudia, there’s no need for jibes about his “substantial girth.”
The second is the affirmative answer to the question that Rosett poses (albeit derisively) in the title of her column: “does the UN really matter?” To Rosett, it only seems to matter in that it sucks money, grants legitimacy to nefarious actors, breeds terrorists, et cetera — her standard diatribe. The true answer to the question, I trust, is more easily obvious to any who have ever actually interacted with UN blue berets. Does the UN really matter to the child in Kenya who receives vaccinations from UN aid workers? Does the UN really matter to the woman in Afghanistan who went to the polls for the first time thanks to the UN’s help? Does the UN really matter to the family in Haiti whose house UN peacekeepers helped rebuild?
As Rosett intones with ignorant sarcasm, yes, the UN matters a lot.
(image of General Assembly president Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann)
Before Drudge readers start scanning the sky for the black helicopters of UN tax collectors, let us quickly explain the misleading fallacy of this headline: UN seeks tax on oil to create $750 billion ‘Green New Deal’…
Just to make it clear, the UN cannot, will not, and has no interest in imposing a tax — on oil, or anything else — for member states. Again: the United Nations cannot tax and has no intention of taxing any country.
The comments of the head of the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) in the Reuters article in question — which is actually titled “$750 billion “green” investment could revive economy: U.N.” — are simply a suggestion of what individual countries could decide to do on their own to both green the economy and get it going again. The recommendations of UNEP’s report, moreover, include such sensible policy options as investing in energy efficient buildings, improving public transportation, and bolstering nature protection provisions. Not, come to think of it, too far off from what the stimulus bill here in the United States is already seeking to implement.
(image of UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner)
Well, no surprise that this UN-lover is pouncing upon Ban Ki-moon’s recent choice of words in chastising the United States for its perpetual debt to the United Nations. No surprise either that Rosett is playing as fast and loose with figures as ever; in the course of begrudging the United States even paying (belatedly, to be sure) its agreed-upon UN dues, she unleashes this bit of baffling number-bending:
Bear in mind that those dues are just a small fraction of the billions upon billions that the U.S. actually forks over every year to the UN in the form of additional funds — including voluntary contributions, support for UN agencies, special programs, donations to emergency appeals, peacekeeping and whatnot.
The United States owes 22%, or a little over a billion dollars, of the UN’s current $5 billion regular budget. In addition, it pays is supposed to pay about 26% (still below what it would owe if it paid a proportionate share of its GDP) of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, which is about $7 billion. And, all told the U.S. contributions to the other “voluntary contributions…and whatnot” that Rosett so flippantly cites — and which is “fork[ed] over” to such unimportant causes as funding humanitarian responses to natural disasters, feeding the world’s hungry, and building schools and hospitals in the developing world — amount to another $3 billion.
So bear with me for a little basic algebra: a little under $2 billion for peacekeeping, plus $3 billion for voluntary organizations, makes about $5 billion. $1 billion over $5 billion could be translated into the fraction 1/5, or 20%. Is this a “small fraction of  billions upon billions?” It seems just as well to consider the United States’ $1.3 billion debt to UN peacekeeping — which constitutes about 1/5 of the entire peacekeeping budget — a “small fraction.” And if you ask the peacekeepers facing these shortages whether it’s such a “small fraction,” I think they’d disagree.
David Harris, the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in New York pens this refreshingly sane rebuke to the most rabid of the anti-Durban extremists (whose excesses I have denounced here and here, among other places). When the United States opted to test the waters and send a delegation to the conference’s preparatory meetings in Geneva last month, one of the members was the AJC’s Felice Gaer. Predictably, Gaer was demonized, and, as Harris relates, the AJC’s participation became “red meat for a chorus of critics, led by writers Caroline Glick in Israel, Anne Bayefsky in the U.S., and Melanie Phillips in the U.K.” These frantic voices levelled unconscionable and unhinged attacks on AJC’s patriotism, integrity, and support for Israel, also assuring that, by simply appearing for talks, the United States was dooming itself, and the entire West, to complicity in a morals-eroding, world order-destroying “hate-fest.”
Harris’ response to such over the top pronouncements:
In the end, these three well-known observers, in their consequences-be-damned approach to Durban II, got it wrong. They viciously lashed out at anyone who dared to disagree on tactics, irresponsibly questioned motives, incorrectly prophesied the U.S. position and failed to see that European nations were now more, not less, likely to walk out. Indeed, Italy adopted the U.S. stance within days.
To become so blatantly and blindly partisan and to irresponsibly accuse groups like AJC of cavorting with Holocaust deniers and doing willful damage to Israel, is, I’d say, well over the top.
An even greater tragedy than the fact that the United States will not be attempting to further its agenda by participating at Durban is that the debate leading up to the conference was so skewed by such baseless, and often ad hominem, attacks. Reasoned debate and discussion would have been the best way to attempt to move the conference to a credible anti-racism platform, and reasoned debate and discussion would have been the proper way to argue in the lead-up to the conference. Unfortunately, we were left with neither.
A few days ago I noted a number of factual inaccuracies in a mindless segment on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight about a purported attempt by the United Nations to curb Americans’ freedom of expression. In the course of the course of responding to Lou Dobbs I made one inaccurate statement of my own. I said “There’s never been an anti-blasphemy resolution passed in the General Assembly and I don’t expect there ever will be.” While technically true, the General Assembly has taken up the functional equivalent in resolutions passed under the aegis of “Combating Defamation of Religions.”
There are a couple of further points I feel I should make about this.
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.