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.

1 comment:

Phoenix Woman said...

Ian, if you want to understand the American public, you have to understand the US media. And if you want to understand the US media, bear in mind that a) All radio/TV networks and most newspapers are owned/run by conservative/corporate interests, and b) Bush and the GOP specificially catered to the media interests by cutting both taxes and government oversight (the FCC is fearless when it comes to Janet Jackson's breasts, toothless when it comes to trustbusting). To quote Upton Sinclair, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

This has been many decades in the works; former Nixon Cabinet member William Simon laid the groundwork for it, which initially flowered in time to give Ronald Reagan a big boost (and probably the election) in 1980, and it's just got worse since then. (We owe the existence of Rush Limbaugh to Reagan's killing of the Fairness Doctrine, the death of which means that any well-subsidized right-winger can have a radio show, and we owe the existence of FOX News to then-House-Speaker Newt Gingrich's ramming through legislation designed to allow Rupert Murdoch to set up shop in the US, in exchange for a $4 million book deal for Newt. Oh, and how did Newt get to be Speaker? By going after his Democratic predecessor Jim Wright, who Gingrich attacked for a $50,000 book deal -- 1/80 of the sum Newt would eventually get.)

The one thing that stands between the UK's becoming the US is the Beeb. And I see that Poodle Boy Blair is doing his damndest to ruin the Beeb. Sigh.