Take, for example, the recent speech delivered by the United Nation's Deputy Secretary General, Mark Malloch Brown, at a conference organized by The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress titled "Power and Super-Power: Global Leadership in the Twenty-First Century". I had actually rsvp-ed for the conference, and was more than ready to attend, but the enthusiasm waned as I returned from a 12 AM free screening of The Omen the night before. (On a side note, the movie is worth seeing!)
Brown really doesnt say anything controversial. His viewpoints are quite reasonable and frankly, are honest and devoid of any sugar-coating. The why the harsh response from Bolton?
According to this Washington Post article, Bolton called Malloch Brown's speech a "very, very grave mistake," the worst by a U.N. official that he had seen in more than 15 years. He said the address, given in New York on Tuesday, represented a "condescending and patronizing" attack against the American people.
Thankfully, Annan categorically stood up for his number 2 at the UN, and immediately dismissed Bolton's almost vitriolic comments. It is true in many ways that the US has not only used the UN for its own interests, but then also gone further to derail efforts put forth by other member states when approached for cooperation. Maybe as a graduate student studying International Relations, I should teach Bolton a thing or two about diplomacy: it's a two way street, Mr. Ambassador!
For those who are interested, here's a full draft (PDF file) of the speech Brown delivered on Tuesday, but I have copied portions I found interesting below:
But my underlying message, which is a warning about the serious consequences of a decades-long tendency by US Administrations of both parties to engage only fitfully with the UN, is not one a sitting United Nations official would normally make to an audience like this.
But I feel it is a message that urgently needs to be aired. And as someone who has spent most of his adult life in this country, only a part of it at the UN, I hope you will take it in the spirit in which it is meant: as a sincere and constructive critique of US policy towards the UN by a friend and admirer. Because the fact is that the prevailing practice of seeking to use the UN almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics is simply not sustainable. You will lose the UN one way or another.
Today, we are coming to the end of the 10-year term of arguably the UN’s best-ever Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. But some of his very successes -- promoting human rights and a responsibility to protect people from abuse by their own Governments; creating a new status for civil society and business at the UN -- are either not recognized or have come under steady attacks from anti-UN groups.
More broadly, Americans complain about the UN’s bureaucracy, weak decision-making, the lack of accountable modern management structures and the political divisions of the General Assembly here in New York. And my response is, “guilty on all counts”. But why?
In significant part because the US has not stuck with its project -- its professed wish to have a strong, effective United Nations -- in a systematic way. Secretary Albright and others here today have played extraordinary leadership roles in US-UN relations, for which I salute them. But in the eyes of the rest of the world, US commitment tends to ebb much more than it flows. And in recent years, the enormously divisive issue of Iraq and the big stick of financial withholding have come to define an unhappy marriage.
As someone who deals with Washington almost daily, I know this is unfair to the very real effort all three Secretaries of State I have worked with –- Secretary Albright, Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice -– put into UN issues. And today, on a very wide number of areas, from Lebanon and Afghanistan to Syria, Iran and the Palestinian issue, the US is constructively engaged with the UN. But that is not well known or understood, in part because much of the public discourse that reaches the US heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. That is what I mean by “stealth” diplomacy: the UN’s role is in effect a secret in Middle America even as it is highlighted in the Middle East and other parts of the world.
Exacerbating matters is the widely held perception, even among many US allies, that the US tends to hold on to maximalist positions when it could be finding middle ground.
We can see this even on apparently non-controversial issues such as renovating the dilapidated UN Headquarters in New York. While an architectural landmark, the building falls dangerously short of city codes, lacks sprinklers, is filled with asbestos and is in most respects the most hazardous workplace in town. But the only Government not fully supporting the project is the US. Too much unchecked UN-bashing and stereotyping over too many years -- manifest in a fear by politicians to be seen to be supporting better premises for overpaid, corrupt UN bureaucrats -- makes even refurbishing a building a political hot potato.
Last December, for example, largely at US insistence, instead of a normal two-year budget, Member States approved only six months’ worth of expenditure -- a period which ends on June 30. Developing and developed countries, the latter with the US at the fore, are now at loggerheads over whether sufficient reform has taken place to lift that cap, or indeed whether there should be any links between reform and the budget. Without agreement, we could face a fiscal crisis very soon.
There has been a significant amount of reform over the last 18 months, from the creation of a new Ethics Office and whistle-blower policy, to the establishment of a new Peacebuilding Commission and Human Rights Council. But not enough.
To be fair to Bolton, though, I must also copy some of his relevant comments. Full comments here.
Well, on that speech, this is a very, very grave mistake by the Deputy Secretary General. And to have the Deputy Secretary General criticize the United States in such a manner, can only do grave harm to the United Nations. Even though the target of the speech was the United States, the victim, I fear, will be the United Nations. And even worse was the condescending and patronizing tone about the American people. That fundamentally and very sadly, this was a criticism of the American people, not the American government, by an international civil servant, it's just illegitimate. But what we think the only way at this point to mitigate the damage to the United Nations is that the Secretary General Kofi Annan, we think has to personally and publicly repudiate this speech at the earliest possible opportunity. My hope is that he looks at the potential adverse effect that these intemperate remarks would have on the organization and repudiate it. I think that would be the cleanest, safest thing for the organization.
Mark Malloch Brown is rightly pleading with the US to return to its first ideals as a nation -- those very values that impelled the nation to propose a UN in the first place and which convinced the American Senate to ratify the treaty 89-2 in July 1945.
Mr. Brown is to be commended now for asking us to once again show pride in -- as well as reassert our strong stewardship in -- the assembly that was "made in America."
More to follow, as developments emerge...