Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bye Bye Bolton

Time To Use a Choke Leash
SG Election too important to leave to Bolton.

It is approaching a year since the Bush administration sent John Bolton to the United Nations. In some ways, it is a foreign policy achievement of a high order to appoint someone who can has so successfully poked his thumb up the nostrils of almost 190 other countries simultaneously. However it is a dubious achievement.

As Bolton mouthed indignation at the Mark Malloch Brown's recent, almost grovellingly polite, exhortations to Washington to show proper leadership at the UN, he was of course compounding the immense damage he has already done to American diplomacy, which is, of course, exactly what the Deputy Secretary-General was pointing out.

In fact, for a long time, as Malloch Brown noted, albeit more politely, each successive US administration has used the United Nations and tossed it aside like a used condom after achieving its satisfaction. The difference is that Clinton would be sweet-talking as he did it, while this administration is much more into rough wooing, berating and belittling the organization before and after its perfunctory consummations.

Taking the International Criminal Court as an example, Clinton approved it in principle, but pandered to the Pentagon by having his emissaries water it down in negotiations, and then did not sign it until he was leaving office. It was a classic diplomatic application of the Clinton's "smoking but not inhaling," or "fellatio but no sex," approach.

Equally typically, Bolton promptly unsigned the attenuated treaty setting up the Court. But, emblematic of the difficulties that brute prejudice has when it clashes with reality, that Bolton is now trying to force Sudan to cooperate with the same ICC in its investigation of what the US claims is genocide.

The genocide issue itself shows a perverse continuity in American foreign policy. The Clinton administration fought shy of calling mass murders in the Balkans and Rwanda "genocide" because it believed that would entail a responsibility to act, and he was notoriously reluctant to risk American casualties.

In contrast, the Bush administration calls events in Darfur "genocide," because that is what the Evangelical Christians call it, but it argues that the Genocide Convention does not actually require signatories to intervene. Indeed Bolton is on the record as saying that he does not regard any international law as binding, at least on the US. The net effect is the same-the victims die while politicians score political points in Washington.

Underlying all this is a strange sub-current in US politics. While polls show consistently high American public support for international law and bodies like the UN, like most polls in the US, they should carry a rider: "So what're you gonna do about it." The good guys would mostly answer, "not a lot," while the sundry isolationists, xenophobes, unilateralists, survivalists and neo-cons have shown the mere existence of the UN renders them speechful with rage.

They will send donations, bombard legislators, and fill the Web with their virtual version of reality. Despite the widely different sources for their obsession with the UN, they unite in their hatred and fear of the world body. That makes them somewhat vulnerable to manipulation by the unscrupulous, of whom there are, shall we say, a statistically significant sample in the American political classes. Senator Joe McCarthy was one of a type, not a standalone figure.

The recent trials and Congressional inquiries into lobbying activities by former aide to Republican Senator Tom Delay, Michael Scanlon provided the perfect description of how anti-UN campaigners can tap into this sub-culture. He was using Indian tribes' money to stop off-reservation gambling, but the strategy is spot-on. "Our mission is to get specifically selected groups of individuals to the polls to speak out against something. To that end, your money is best spent finding them and communicating with them on using the modes that they are most likely to respond to. Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them. The wackos get their information form [sic] the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet, and telephone trees."

And how do they get away with it? Because there are few politicians are prepared to put themselves on the line for a multilateral policy in a system where "all politics is local." The exception that proves the rule is Congressman Jim Leach, one of the few Republicans whom Abraham Lincoln would recognize as a colleague.

At the same conference at which Malloch Brown barked back at attack dog Bolton, the Congressman said sadly, "Our policy response is an entirely parochial one, rooted in the so-called doctrine of American Exceptionalism, which neo-cons do not define as refining a shining city on a Hill but as the right of a superpower to place itself above the legal and institutional restraints applied to others. In the neo-con world, values are synonymous with power. The implicit assumption is that American security can be bought and managed alone, without allies, without consideration of contrasting international views or the effect of our policies on others."

So, is there light at the end of the tunnel? Well, the beginning of next year's Congressional session sees the end of Bolton's "emergency" appointment by Bush, because he could not secure endorsement by the Senate. Ironically, he has been calling for a clean sweep of senior UN officials to clear the deck for the new Secretary General, presumably in hopes that he can secure the appointment of someone abjectly servile to American policy.

The UN Secretary-Generalship is an important position, far too important to leave to the prejudices and whims of a dyspeptic walrus. One can only hope that sane voices like Congressman Leach and Condoleezza Rice get involved and remind Bolton that his time is up, and that the rest of the world expects more of a new Secretary General than dancing to the tune of assorted wackos. It is time to rally the too-silent majority of Americans to redeem their nation's plummeting international credibility, and to ensure that the world body that is still the bedrock of international stability is not lumbered with a Bolton clone for the next five year, or even ten years. We really do not want to grandfather in this administration's creative application of chaos theory to world affairs.

A slightly more polite version of this appeared in the Nation at

and another in the Asia Times,
Bring out the Wackos

And, I only just discovered it is now on line, my article from a year ago in the New Internationalist which argues that the US is an essential, if irritating, member of the organization.

Things to watch for: I am working on a book about the phobic American reaction to the UN and the rest of the UnAmerican world.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mark Machiavelli Brown

UN TO US: End the Abuse

On Tuesday, the Century Foundation and Center for American Progress jointly hosted a conference on "Power and SuperPower." Its centerpiece was undoubtedly Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown's measured and merited admonition of the Bush administration's attempts to simultaneously use and abuse the United Nations.

Actually, many other, American, speakers at the conference were far more scathing, listing example after example of Washington's refusal to accept international law and conventions. It was a Thoughtcrime Fest that almost had me wondering why Homeland Security wasn't rappelling through the ceiling and kicking in the doors to arrest all, or at least most, of the participants.

If US Ambassador John Bolton had his way, they probably would have done.

What made it newsworthy was that Malloch Brown speech. It is one thing for rebel Republicans and Democrats to criticize American policy, but for a UN official to stand up and talk back inverts the laws of nature, which have hitherto decreed that the UN only has one position towards the United State: prone.

Bolton has made a lifetime career of abusing the organization and all who work for it, but his reaction was that of a bully suddenly confronted by someone who is not scared of him. The truth may not hurt-but it certainly stings.

Malloch Brown warned of "the serious consequences of a decades-long tendency by US Administrations of both parties to engage only fitfully with the UN," a point that was missed by some of the Clintonistas in the audience, who tend to overlook that administration's less than stellar multilateral record beneath the rhetoric at which its President was so adept.

Far from being anti-American, his speech was a call for American leadership in the organization. But he was being old fashioned, referring to the type of leadership that listens, and pulls a team together, rather than its modern Washington version of team play: beating up the other players and running off with the ball whenever the rules do not suit.

In the same vein, he suggested that one of the major problems about getting a majority vote for reforms of the United Nations was that "very unfortunately, there is currently a perception among many otherwise quite moderate countries that anything the US supports must have a secret agenda aimed at either subordinating multilateral processes to Washington's ends or weakening the institutions, and therefore, put crudely, should be opposed without any real discussion of whether they make sense or not."

He left unsaid, but clearly implied, that the core of the problem was that the US ambassador is a blowhard whose every far from secret word tends to substantiate the worst fears of these member states.

Malloch Brown also reminded the audience that the US and UN have been "constructively engaged, on Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and many other areas. This may have been a euphemism for "the UN doing what the US wanted," but in any case American demands on such questions tend to run into epistemological problems.

For example, Ambassador Bolton currently has to persuade the other members of the Security Council, whose votes he has dismissed as irrelevant, to make the UN that he thinks the US should quit, enforce international law, in which he does not believe, against Iran for non-existent breaches of a Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty that he himself had been trying to sabotage in his previous position as head of disarmament affairs at the State Department.

Of course Malloch Brown was not so crass as to name Bolton. The clever thing to do would have been to ignore the speech, but since Bolton has all the diplomatic skills of a Bull elephant on heat, he rose to the bait and angrily denounced the Deputy Secretary General, thus reinforcing the latter's credibility with the non-aligned delegations. The Ambassador angrily demanded a retraction from Kofi Annan. The Secretary General happily backed his deputy. I could almost imagine him saying, "I wished I had said that." We hope he will.

Knowing just how astute Malloch Brown is, one almost suspected him of planning just that reaction. "Objectively" it made him and Bolton part of a good cop/bad cop routine. However, even if Malloch Brown had planned it that way, and he denies it, no one would ever suspect Bolton of being part of such a sophisticated plot.

As Malloch Brown stated, US policy is "stealth" diplomacy and the UN's role, so assiduously worked for by Washington, is "in effect a secret in Middle America." And indeed, it is. Bolton's echo chamber in the Murdoch media, or "Fox and Rush Limbaugh" as he put it, have continually attacked the organization: not for its behavior, but for its existence.

It is perhaps typical of Bolton that he assumed that casting aspersions against Fox, Limbaugh and those who believe them was an attack on the American public.

There is one easy way to settle the question. Let Fox, or Limbaugh produce one positive story that they have done about the United Nations in the last five years.

The only thing wrong with Malloch Brown's speech is that it should have been made long, long ago. Six months ago he told me he would be out of the office on December 31st. He has certainly settled the question now, since his head will be the price for American support for any SG candidate.

We must hope that he will be equally forthright in the six months he has to go before then.

This is on the Nation website at