Friday, February 17, 2006
The US and the UN: What You Won't Hear on NPR
Journalist Mark Steyn has an acerbic, but enlightening essay on the United Nations in the most recent issue of Imprimus, which I recommend you read. I know from Liberian friends that the UN "peace-keeping troops" in Liberia are deeply corrupt and rapidly spreading AIDs.
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Steyn's got some good points. I wish he had addressed a few more issues, however.
First, he failed to note that one of the reasons the UN relies on troops who are corrupt is because of strict adherence to the rule that the organization itself shall have no such troops. The UN must take what it can get. And if the US refuses to participate, or support as we agreed to, then the UN's choices are reduced considerably. One cause of the intrusion of corruption in the UN has been the adoption by the US of the Soviet Union's old stance of trying to "starve the beast." We could do a lot to clean up the UN simply by doing our part; current negotiations have gotten the US close to carrying our agreed-upon load, but of course the rot has already intruded. Every peace mission is staffed by troops volunteered from member nations, and by no others. When we do not volunteer, when we withhold leadership to oversee other volunteers, results are often less than we expect.
Second, his indictments of Kofi Anan's family are stinging. Is he correct? Consider what it must look like to the rest of the world that our current president is the son of the president-before-last, and that he got the office when the Supreme Court stopped the investigation into election irregularities in the one province which just happened to be ruled by the Bush's own brother. By the standards applied in Mr. Steyn's speech, we should indict the entire Bush family, including Barbara. Perhaps he's dead right -- I suspect there are other details he's left out.
Third, he's right that the UN is not the place to hash out everything. Steyn refers to North Korea, which only reiterates the striking sadness that the current administration abrogated the agreement which had North Korea shutting down its nuclear capacity. We're in a pickle, yes -- but it's not the UN's fault in any way. One of the reasons the UN has been unable to get action on the issue is the US's refusal to negotiate. Again, it seems unfair to blame that on the UN, that they can't get the US to come to the table to help clean up a mess the US made worse.
International relations is no place for suckers or softies. Steyn's young, though, and appears to have forgotten what existed before the UN, and how its failures led directly to World War II, or what existed before that, which had major wars in most populated places every generation. He complains about the oil-for-food program, but fails to mention that the US had an oversight role it refused to exercise ("too much UN involvement for the US, which should do these things on its own"); and he failed to note that the program, for all its failings, saved the Kurds and had Saddam corraled. With the revelations that Bush has "lost" $8 billion in the last year in Iraq -- no one has any idea at all where it went -- the failings of the oil-for-food program pale in comparison. Oh, and did we mention that among the companies that have the lucrative contracts to work in Iraq is the Vice President's former company, which still pays him millions a year? Again, were we to use Steyn's standards against the UN on Cheney, we'd have to include him in the indictments.
The US had a great lesson taught to us between 1918 and 1941 -- we cannot disengage from the world, and actions have consequences. Steyn's black-or-white, all-or-nothing slam at the UN has all the earmarks of the best-intentions from America's isolationists of the 1920s and 1930s -- including the fact that it was exactly the wrong thing to do.
By the way, a search at NPR.org find 46 stories noting the oil-for-food program, including stories on the involvement of all the characters Steyn mentions. I'd wager that's more in-depth reporting than is offered by Fox News, or most other news outlets.
Since I don't have cable I choose to get the bulk of my news through NPR. And I don't think CNN, Fox News, MSNBC are as good, in many ways as NPR.
Though NPR I've learned alot. Like about the harrowing tales in China of forced abortion (to a baby only a couple days before birth). To thousands of rebellions in rural areas in China by those who know that the authorities don't want them to know their laws which are on the books.
Sure, there are points of view on every side on NPR. And I want to hear them. NPR isn't perfect as no news source will be. But I find it much better than what I've seen elsewhere. In my opinion.
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