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

No comments: