September 24, 2003

Fig Leaf Diplomacy


There was good and bad in President Bush's U.N. speech. Unfortunately, the good was completely undercut by the bad. By repeatedly acknowledging the legitimacy of the United Nations -- going as far as to equate its founding principles with America's -- Bush surrendered the moral high ground to our enemies.

The Good: Bush rightly praised many of the accomplishments of the U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also took a swipe at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PA. But most importantly, Bush invoked 9/11 and alluded to the (now long dead) Bush Doctrine:

"Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides: Between those who seek order, and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change, and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man, and those who deliberately take the lives of men, and women, and children, without mercy or shame.
"Between these alternatives there is no neutral ground. All governments that support terror are complicit in a war against civilization. No government should ignore the threat of terror because to look the other way gives terrorists the chance to regroup, and recruit, and prepare. And all nations that fight terror, as if the lives of their own people depend on it, will earn the favorable judgment of history."

This is a strong moral statement: "All governments that support terror are complicit in a war against civilization."

The question is: Why is Bush saying this in an appeal to an organization that openly embraces many who "spread chaos," "adopt the methods of gangsters," and "deliberately take the lives of men, and women, and children"? (See yesterday's post.)

The Bad: The answer, judging by Bush's statements, is that Bush feels it is necessary to morally justify the self-defense of the United States in U.N. terms. He lauded the U.N. a number of times, but this quote sums it up:

"Helping Afghanistan and Iraq to succeed as free nations in a transformed region -- cutting off the avenues of proliferation, abolishing modern forms of slavery -- these are the kinds of great tasks for which the United Nations was founded."

He didn't criticize the dictatorship members of the U.N. He didn't condemn or even acknowledge their active participation in the "war against civilization." [Correction: Bush did at least say, "Arab nations must cut off funding and other support for terrorist organizations" -- however, he did not name the nations nor indicate what would happen if they didn't stop supporting terrorism.]

Yet the one time he mentions Israel, it is a criticism: "Israel must work to create the conditions that will allow a peaceful Palestinian state to emerge." As if Israel isn't fighting a war against Palestinian terrorists who "deliberately take the lives of men, and women, and children."

The climax of this moral equivalence came at the end of his speech:

"The founding documents of the United Nations and the founding documents of America stand in the same tradition. Both assert that human beings should never be reduced to objects of power or commerce, because their dignity is inherent. Both recognize a moral law that stands above men and nations, which must be defended and enforced by men and nations. ... And both point the way to peace, the peace that comes when all are free."
U.N. member Syria -- who is allowing terrorists into Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers -- is on the U.N. Security Council. U.N member North Korea regularly threatens to turn America into a nuclear "sea of fire." U.N. member Iran -- who just two days ago displayed missiles painted with "We will crush America under our feet" and "Israel must be wiped off the map" -- is considered by even the State Department to be the world's worst sponsor of terrorism. And let's not forget that Saddam's bloody Iraq was a U.N. member before being felled by American-lead coalition forces despite U.N attempts at obstruction.

Does anybody really believe that an organization that allows such members cares about "the peace that comes when all are free"?

Let's hope that Bush sees the difference between the founding principles of America and the U.N. Glenn Woiceshyn did an excellent job a few years back explaining that difference: UN Declaration of Rights Destroys Rights.

But even giving Bush the benefit of the doubt, it's shameful that he would say there isn't any difference, especially if it's political kow-towing to get other countries' help in Iraq.

A September 4th Wall Street Journal editorial described the motivation behind Bush's renewed appeals to the U.N.:

"White House spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday said that some countries, such as India, need a U.N. imprimatur before they dispatch troops to Iraq. Mr. Bush wants to provide that fig leaf -- our words, not Mr. McClellan's -- but the current coalition will retain civilian and military control in Baghdad. ... If this is how it all works out, the inevitable U.N. wrangling may well be worth it."

Commenting on the editorial, Objectivist scholar Harry Binswanger rightly noted:

"The 'fig leaf' we are to supply is more like a feather pulled from the wing of the American eagle. [...] Rather than seek the 'imprimatur' of the U.N., we should regard any approval they would give us as a stain of dishonor."

Posted by Forkum at September 24, 2003 07:48 AM