Monday, December 05, 2005

Jesse Helms the Best Friend of the UN?

Ruth Wedgwood, a conservative foreign policy expert, opines in today's Times about the failure of the UN to reform. This is the most recent news on the issue, following up on the Volker report, the impending removal of the UN's expert on running elections, and the reinstatement of one of the people who screwed up the oil for food program because of bureaucratic process. (If I were a good blogger, I'd have links for each of these, but I don't--you'll just have to trust me.)

Question: remember Jesse Helms, the antediluvian chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee? Madeline Albright and Richard Holbrooke spent much effort seducing him into paying our UN dues, at least in part. But maybe he was the best friend the UN had.

Liberals like me automatically support anything that someone like Helms opposes. So his opposition to the UN over the recent past insulated the UN from criticism from the left. Now that he's gone, I'm thinking there's something to the conservatives' case against the UN. I know there's problems in our own bureaucracy, which is subject to controls by political forces. When Bush I's FEMA screws up in Florida, Clinton comes in and fixes the problem. Bush II screws it up again, but at least we had an effective agency for a while. As far as I can see there's nothing similar in the UN--it's all "who you know", mutual backscratching and logrolling, and quota system. There are times and institutions where expertise and selection from within can work well. But those cases are relatively few.

Liberals believe in multinational institutions and are skeptical of nationalism. But we need to be sure the multinationals are effective.

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