Monday, December 05, 2005

NYT editorializes against John Bolton's efforts to pressure for UN reform

The New York Times editorialized yesterday, Sunday, December 2, 2005, here (sub req'd), against reported attempts by John Bolton to pressure the UN to engage seriously with reform, by threatening to hold up the organization's two year budget. As reported in an article from the Washington Times' Betsy Pisik, in an earlier post, here, Bolton believes that if the full two year budget is passed, then the pressure for any reform during that budget period evaporates.

About that Bolton is plainly right and the NY Times plainly wrong. As with so many NYT editorials, it sounds like someone met with the editorial board and gave them talking points, which it then dutifully turned into an editorial that sounds at once like God Addressing Eternity and yet manages to be ill-informed. (Who might have briefed the Times? Who indeed?)

Consider, for example, that the NYT says that Bolton is demanding an impossible task of reform within a short few months. But the problem, rather, is that the UN General Assembly has not even begun to discuss, let alone seriously grapple, with the issues that it tasked itself with in its own Final Outcome Document for UN reform back in September. There are significant items that it called upon itself to resolve by December 31, 2005, not merely discuss - they include Security Council reform and other issues.

As for the Times' claim that Bolton is what prevents the UN from reaching some agreement that would keep countries like Cuba or Libya or Sudan off the UN Human Rights Commission - Bolton? Get real. John Bolton is the only thing that might possibly stand in the way of the Cubas and Sudans from continuing on the Human Rights Commission or any successor.

The Times also claims that the most successful US ambassadors to the UN were the ones who used patience and diplomacy to slowly, somehow harness the UN to US policies. Really? The most successful US diplomats to the UN in thirty years have been Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and a review of the Times reporting during their tenure does not suggest that their success was due to patience and slow diplomacy - quite the opposite.

On the contrary, nearly all US ambassadors to the UN who have tried the Times' formula have both met with no success - at least if you count success looking out for US interests rather than being, as both the Times and the UN General Secretariat would patently prefer, the UN ambassador to the US - and have been effectively neutered if not captured by the organization itself.

The Times likewise castigates Bolton for having dumped late in the game a supposedly decent blueprint for reform in favor of a US position that resulted in the final discussions producing a document widely regarded as mush. It fails to recall, however, that the problem was that bottom line US positions, held by the US for decades through many administrations of both parties, were simply ignored by the drafters of the supposed consensus reform document.

All Bolton did in August 2005 was finally to make clear that the United States would stick to its basic positions dating back to the Carter and Nixon years, and that it would propose to negotiate those positions, rather than simply going along with unacceptable provisions. If the Times wants to debate those positions, then it can go back to square one on fundamental US foreign policy - not hold Bolton responsible for a supposedly last minute change in US negotiating. It was last minute only because of the obdurateness - encouraged, it must be said, by the Times - of a UN negotiating committee that assumed that the Bush administration could be rolled over in order to avoid bad press from venues such as ... the New York Times.

Exerpts from the editorial:

New York Times
December 2, 2005

Blocking Reform at the U.N.

Muscular diplomacy is one thing. But John Bolton has been all muscle and no diplomacy as the United States ambassador to the United Nations. Now he's threatening to hold up its entire two-year operating budget unless his demands for major reforms are met almost immediately.

As it happens, the American reform agenda contains many good elements. No one can seriously argue that the U.N. is a rationally structured, efficiently managed body. And letting countries like Cuba, Libya and Sudan sit on a human rights commission that judges the records of other countries diminishes the U.N.'s most important authority, its moral authority. But just as the Senate feared when it declined to confirm Mr. Bolton in the job, his blustering unilateral style is turning him into one of the biggest obstacles to achieving changes that had been within reach before he appeared on the scene.

Two basic changes are needed to repair the U.N.'s tarnished reputation. First, significant authority over appointments and management needs to be shifted from the General Assembly, which has 191 members, to the secretary general's office. Just as important, the secretary general (a new one will be chosen next year) must exercise this new authority wisely, boldly and effectively.

The most important specific reforms include establishing a permanent human rights council made up of countries that respect human rights, creating a commission to oversee the reconstruction of societies devastated by armed conflict, and giving the secretary general the authority to recommend ending missions that have outlived their usefulness and to make senior appointments based on merit, not regional quotas.

Doing these things will require a close alliance between reformers and the secretary general's office and the ability to convince General Assembly members that a more credible and effective U.N. is in their interests. Those are exactly the areas where Mr. Bolton has done the most damage. His demands and his threats to bypass the U.N. if it doesn't bow to them have fed the impression that the whole reform agenda is a power grab by Washington. Hard as it is for Americans to believe, much of the world now suspects Secretary General Kofi Annan of being Washington's lackey.

Mr. Annan made a promising start earlier this year at building a consensus for reform, only to have it derailed by Mr. Bolton. Soon after taking over the American mission this summer, he issued a long list of last-minute demands. As a result, a special international summit meeting that had been organized to adopt real reforms ended up endorsing a document that was mostly fudge and mush.

Mr. Bolton's latest threat, to block the next U.N. budget, is likely to be equally counterproductive. America's most successful U.N. ambassadors, whether they served Republican or Democratic presidents, have known how to harness American power to patient, skillful diplomacy. Regrettably, Mr. Bolton has failed to profit from their example.

No comments: