Andrew Sullivan has a piece for the Times of London in which he reminds even those famously stiff upper lips of London about the dangers of confusing the United Nations with moral leadership. He begins first by reminding us of some of the absurdities of an organization such as the United Nations:
Kleptocrats do not good bureaucrats make. And because the UN treats every sovereign country as morally indistinguishable it cannot easily avoid the kleptocrats. Or the tyrants. That’s why the current UN Commission on Human Rights working group is made up of the Netherlands, Hungary, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe. No, I’m not making that up. Next up: Robert Mugabe on the gay rights commission; Kim Jong-il to monitor non-proliferation; and Ayatollah Khamenei on women’s rights.Then, more directly in regard to the Iraq War, Sully offers this challenge to traditional, internationalist liberals:
Imagine we had followed the UN line and not gone to war. The corrupt oil for food programme would have continued, while pressure to remove sanctions increased. Saddam would have gradually rebuilt the ability to threaten the region and the world. Hundreds of shady businessmen, lobbyists and bureaucrats would have seen their bank accounts padded with lucrative oil contracts.Sully says he doesn't believe that the United Nations should be abolished. I happen to disagree with him, because I believe that the United Nations, especially as currently constituted, is rotten to the core. In its present form, it is no better than the old League of Nations. Indeed, the United Nations itself had been founded, according to its own charter:
The Iraqi people would have continued to live in a fast-collapsing police state, kept barely alive by medicine and food supplies from the UN that were also the means to keep them under Saddam’s thumb. How on earth would this have been anything but a disaster and an injustice?
Yet, this organization that supposedly sees individualism and human rights and dignity as its aims, has done nothing to spread democracy. Even the first purpose, which is to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, has been largely ignored, efforts only being extended when the United States is party to military confrontation.
- to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
- to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
- to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
- to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
As a debating society, and as a forum for practice of the Great Game, it remains a useful tool. But most power games are played on a regional basis, and in internationalizing all the games, the opportunity is given for smaller, regional threats to band together against the United States. Suddenly, Kim Jong Il and Moammar Qadafi have a way to coordinate their work.
Rather, I prefer ideas on the level of a Community of Democracies, or even a slight twist on the old British Commonwealth, an Anglosphere Council or some such. Witness the reaction to the Boxing Day Tsunami, where the quickest reactions came from Australia, the United States, Singapore, India, Thailand, and Indonesia, of which four are members of the Anglosphere. In any event, the idea that the United Nations has any moral leadership is an illusion dreamt up by starry-eyed internationalists, who fail to see, as Andrew notes, that the United Nations has no accountability.
But precisely because it has to represent all nations, it cannot represent justice or even any meaningful definition of the word “peace”. As long as Saudi Arabia is determining what human rights are, it’s a joke. Yes, it can be useful as a mechanism for the great powers to enforce their will in less naked and more consensual a fashion. But without those great powers, it’s useless. Remember Srebrenica? Or Rwanda? If the UN is powerless before genocide and corrupt in the face of dictatorships how can it be relied on to do anything of real significance in the world? That kind of work is left to the despised leaders of the West — the George Bushes and Tony Blairs and Michael Howards. They are accountable to voters, whereas UN bureaucrats are accountable once in a blue moon to Volcker.Andrew doesn't really offer any alternatives, which is too bad. But it's a good starting piece for readers who are ready to think outside the traditional Leftist box.
We have learnt a lot since the liberation of Iraq. Western leaders are fallible. They even occasionally preside over serious crimes in pursuit of their policies. But without these western leaders and military powers, the Taliban would still be in power and Saddam would still be skimming off UN dollars. And Annan would be making excuses.
After all the huffing and puffing of the past three years, doesn’t that tell you all you really need to know?
[Cross posted at Between Worlds]