Friday, June 17, 2005

Mark Your Calendars

Today is one of those (lamentably) all-too-rare occasions when I find myself in agreement with the Bush Administration. I join the President, his Secretary of State, and other administration officials in denouncing a wrong-headed and childish action taken this afternoon by the House of Representatives.

Against Bush's express request, the House passed a bill today that would force the United States to withhold 50% of its UN dues until the organization adopts a long list of changes enumerated in the legislation. Many of the suggested reforms are similar to those recommended by the Gingrich-Mitchell report released earlier this week, and most of them are worthwhile and necessary. That's not the point. Withholding dues will not make the United Nations more responsive to US calls for reform - in fact I would suggest the opposite is more likely. As the president has said, passage of this legislation will be counterproductive to American reform initiatives.

The House vote today was 221-184, with 28 members not voting. Eight Democrats (Barrow, Berkley, Costello, G. Green, Marshall, McIntyre, Mollohan, and Taylor) voted with 213 Republicans to pass the bill; 176 Democrats, 1 Independent, and seven Republicans (Sherry Boehlert, Mike Castle, Virgil Goode, Jim Leach, Ron Paul, Dave Reichert, and Chris Shays) voted no.

Thankfully, the likelihood of this measure becoming law is slim to none. No senator has introduced companion legislation in that chamber, and even if it were to reach his desk, President Bush would be hard-pressed not to veto it. It's still unfortunate to see, though, that our elected representatives expend their energies on empty gestures like this when they could be doing the nation's vital business.

The New York Times and Washington Post each have stories out on this topic.

[Update: From the comments, Molotov writes "While a 50% reduction is drastic and it probably won't go into law, I like the measure. Given that the United Nations has been shamefully AWOL on Sudan, promotes dictatorships to its Human Rights Committee, and the oil-for-food scandal. That is, unless you consider shaking things up to help prevent genocide of blacks, increase freedom, and accountability as not "doing the nation's vital business."

The last time that funds were withheld, there were some reforms. I would think that my fellow moderates (and even liberals) would support such a measure, to speed up the much-needed reform process in the United Nations."

Several points. First, I agree that Hyde's bill isn't likely to become law. Second, it is not the UN as a whole which has been absent on Sudan - Kofi Annan and other leading UN figures have in fact been particularly vocal on that front. Inaction on Sudan is the fault of the world's governments - stalling on the part of France, Russia and China, and insufficient use of the bully pulpit by the United States to push additional action. I agree with the point about dictatorships on the human rights and other panels (hence my support for the Gingrich-Mitchell reforms). And the oil-for-food scandal is shameful and regrettable - it would also be addressed by Gingrich-Mitchell.

I do not consider "shaking things up" a bad thing at all ... as you know, I've been posting since this blog's inception for action to stop the genocide in Darfur, and have also posted regularly (including this morning) on the moral duty of Americans to stand up to dictatorships and pursue increased accountability not only from our own government but from the UN and other international institutions as well. The insinuation that I do not believe such actions are "doing the nation's vital business" is unfortunate. If I thought withholding our dues to the UN would accomplish any of those goals, I would support that step wholeheartedly. I do not think that is the case. I cannot believe that juvenile "take our marbles and go home" stunts increase the chances that the French will suddenly see the need for action against massacres in Darfur. I think pushing for reform as an honest broker will get us much farther in that fight.

Let me offer some words from a few of the moderates involved in yesterday's debate in the House.

Jim Leach of Iowa: "Corruption exists in all societies. It is rife, indeed endemic, in some. At the U.N., it is isolated; it is not endemic. I have known hundreds and hundreds of people who have worked for the U.N. itself or U.N. agencies. They are honorable, decent people doing a decent job. It is true that a few thousand dollars here and a few thousand dollars there pretty soon adds up to a loss of confidence in institutions of governance, and we have that problem at the U.N. Hence, we cannot ignore scandal, but scandal does not define the United Nations; it defines a problem that must be dealt with there and elsewhere. We should do this, but we should do this with the understanding that the world would be a far worse place without the U.N. and that the activities and actions of its various organizations and agencies have made this a better world society. So improvement, not destruction, is the goal."

Mike Castle: "While I strongly agree with Chairman Hyde, that serious and fundamental problems exist at the United Nations, I prefer the President's approach of continuing to pursue negotiations for reform through diplomatic means. ... [W]e can all agree that the U.N. and the international community should hear our outrage for the mismanagement of what is meant to be an example of unity and peace. ... While we can all agree that our country, as the biggest contributor to the U.N., must help the organization become more efficient and effective, the Lantos-Shays substitute finds a compromise that I think reflects where the majority of Americans come down on this issue. The Gingrich-Mitchell task force takes serious issue with much of the damaging policies that have occurred at the U.N., but it refrains from calling for mandatory withholding of dues. President Bush has also signaled his opposition to many of these provisions, which may hinder our Ambassador's dealings with the organization. Under the Lantos-Shays substitute, we can send the same message to the international community without undermining our efforts to promote democracy and protect those in need."

Chris Shays: "We are in a war in Afghanistan, a war in Iraq, and we are telling the President of the United States and the Secretary of State, Forget it. We don't care what you think. We're going ahead. Mandatory, nuclear option. It is going to happen even if the U.N. does most of what we ask. Even if they do 80 percent of what we ask, it is still going to happen. Mandatory. I cannot believe when our men and women are fighting in Iraq that we would move forward with legislation like this when we need to draw countries together. The problem is not all the reforms can physically happen, and some of them will not happen, and some in the U.N. might not even want them to happen. They are eager to have us withhold funds. They are eager to have more people hate the United States."

Mandatory withholding of dues was an unnecessary and harmful step for the House to take. I'm thankful that the chances of it becoming reality are minimal. Reform, yes. Shooting ourselves in the foot, no. -- 18 June, 11:02 a.m.]

5 Comments:

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Shay said...

While a 50% reduction is drastic and it probably won't go into law, I like the measure. Given that the United Nations has been shamefully AWOL on Sudan, promotes dictatorships to its Human Rights Committee, and the oil-for-food scandal. That is, unless you consider shaking things up to help prevent genocide of blacks, increase freedom, and accountability as not "doing the nation's vital business."

The last time that funds were withheld, there were some reforms. I would think that my fellow moderates (and even liberals) would support such a measure, to speed up the much-needed reform process in the United Nations.

 
At 11:01 AM, Blogger JBD said...

I've responded to molotov's thoughts at length in the post.

 
At 12:13 PM, Blogger Shay said...

Thanks for your response. However, I still don't see why folks are afraid of holding the U.N. FAR more accountable for its use of our taxpayer dollars (since USA is responsible for about 22% of all monies to the U.N.). And given its prior success, withholding some funds is the best way to ensure that reforms are pushed much farther. I wouldn't do 50%, but start at 10% and increase it with a timetable.

 
At 12:20 PM, Blogger JBD said...

Certainly something along the lines of 10% with increases, to be determined either by timetable or at the discretion of the Secretary of State, would be appropriate (this was what the Lantos/Shays alternative to Hyde's bill would have done). I absolutely could get on board with something along those lines. The Hyde version though, is too much, too mandatory.

 
At 3:09 PM, Blogger EG said...

The problem with either 10% + increases or 50% slash is, like Helms' approach in the 1990s, the U.N. thinks of it not as a reduction but as an I.O.U. to be paid later. Pay cash or pay part now and the balance on creadit. How is that a bully club?

More importantly, some of the reforms like the Human Rights Committee issue, are not an issue of ommission but commission. One person's dictorship is another's 99% victory in the last election.

 

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