January 27, 2000
Albrightís abject apology to the presumptive Masters of the Universe
at the United Nations for the unfortunate and retrograde comments
made by North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms the week before was predictable.
You could even argue that it was amusing. But it was unfortunate
and contained some dubious assertions, reflecting some dubious attitudes.
Helms, you may remember, had appeared at the U.N. at the invitation
of the current US ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, in what
appeared to me to be a gesture of resigned reconciliation with an
outfit he has criticized in the past, but looked to most media observers
like a savage attack on the world organization and a ringing statement
of isolationism. He did use the occasion to offer some criticisms
of the UN and to convey some of the misgivings some Americans have
about the world body.
will become impatient, he said if the UN seeks "to impose its
presumed authority on the American people.íí More than a few Americans,
he continued, "see the UN aspiring to establish itself as the
central authority of a new international order of global laws and
global governance. This is an international order the American people
will not countenance."
was a rather mild and civil bit of criticism of an organization
that has received and deserved much harsher words, some of them
from Sen. Helms. Even Ambassador Holbrooke, appearing that night
on "Nightline" (fully aware, of course, that he will have
to deal with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
whether he respects him or not), praised Sen. Helms for having entered
into the hostile precincts of the UN at all. And while he was careful
to emphasize that he didnít agree with much of what Sen. Helms had
to say, he applauded the appearance as a statesmanlike gesture.
But most of the media and the foreign policy establishment reacted
as if Sen. Helms had firebombed the place or maybe ordered a nuclear
strike on the Tower of Babel on the East River. Among certain of
the enlightened and anointed ones in our society, the United Nations
remains one of the most sacred of the many sacred cows these worthies
Sen. Helms, although he was so bold as to utter a few remonstrances,
has in actions joined the worshippers. There is no question, despite
the misconceptions of the headline writers, that he is and has long
been an internationalist, though more because he thinks the United
States needs to lead than because he respects the "international
community" of professional freeloaders. And he worked with
the insufferable Sen. Joe Biden to put together the Helms-Biden
bill to pay the United Statesí supposed arrears in UN dues in exchange
for almost certainly empty promises of fundamental reforms in the
UN institutional structures.
sad. There were moments in the late 1980s when you could at least
get agreement in some establishment quarters to the general proposition
that the United Nations was an ineffectual and somewhat anachronistic
institution and that the world would not be notably worse off if
it were to disappear. To be sure, much of the disappointment was
due to the fact that the UN had not turned out to be the harbinger
of an enlightened World Government but a debating society for the
pampered and pretentious.
THE ELDERíS WAR OF RESURRECTION
I think the most important event in
the resurrection of the UN in the minds of otherwise intelligent
and sometimes realistic internationalists was George Bushís lovely
little war in the Persian Gulf. A veteran internationalist and elitist,
George the Elder used the UN as the framework to build a coalition
against the evil Saddam and praised it continually as the indispensable
instrument of bringing in the New World Order.
of otherwise conservative and nationalist Americans came to see
the UN as an essentially harmless and sometimes useful instrument
of American imperial power. Armed with new respectability and with
the institutional framework to conduct weapons inspections in Iraq
after the famous victory, the UN seized various opportunities to
rebuild its image among American elites.
UN is still essentially a debating society that should be a laughingstock
among intelligent people. But it has proven useful to certain avatars
of the empire who believe it can be used without waxing so strong
as to become an actual threat to American dominance. And the chattering
classes have reverted to their natural instincts revering international
institutions like the UN Perhaps they donít see it as the "last
best hope" any more, but as a useful instrument in the ongoing
project of prodding the unwashed masses into supporting actions
that will take us beyond the parochialism of being most concerned
about mere American interests.
ABASES HERSELF AND US
a true (or aspiring) member of the class of the anointed, therefore,
Madeleine Albright felt the need to make it clear as if anyone had
any doubt that she was no Jesse Helms.
me be clear," she told the Security Council during a laughable
meeting on peace prospects for the Congo. "Only the president
and the executive branch can speak for the United States. Today,
on behalf of the president, let me say that the Clinton administration
and I believe that most Americans see our role in the world quite
differently than does Senator Helms."
went on to aver that "We strongly support the United Nations
Charter and the organizationí purpose. We respect its rules, which
we helped to write. We want to strengthen it through continued reform
and we recognize its many contributions to our own interest in a
more secure, democratic and humane world."
groveled so abjectly that even the Associated Press reported that
her remarks "drew intermittent chuckles from foreign ambassadors
seated around the Security Council table."