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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.