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Sunday, May 16, 2010

At the UN, party like it's 1938

Claudia Rosett wonders where Obama's ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has been. It's not just the accession of Libya to the 'Human Rights Council' or Iran to the UN's commission on the status of women. It's a long list of unexplained absences from United Nations debates and committees.
[C]ozying up to the U.N. comes with responsibilities for standing up to the liars, crooks and tyrants who seize every chance to exploit the institution. These days Washington shows limp interest in oversight, despite U.S. taxpayers providing roughly one-quarter of a U.N. system-wide budget now well upward of $25 billion per year.

For instance, one of the top slots at the U.S. Mission is for an envoy for U.N. management and reform. Since Obama took office 16 months ago that post has yet to be filled. The Mission has made do with an acting ambassador, flashing a clear message that for all the U.S. "engagement," the chronic need to clean the bilges of the U.N. ranks low among Washington's priorities.

Or take another example. A few years ago, in the wake of such U.N. scandals as Oil-for-Food and the discovery of massive corruption in the U.N. procurement department, the U.S. Mission began posting detailed critiques of U.N. budgets, plus copies of U.N. internal audit reports. This helped bring a glimmer of much-needed transparency to the murky, self-serving and graft-laced inner workings of the U.N.

Under Obama, the U.S. Mission stopped updating this information. The most recent audits posted are from 2008. Interviewed by phone this week, a spokesman for the mission said the posting of U.N. internal audits has been "temporarily suspended" since early 2009, pending a redesign of the website and a review of past policy. He added that the policy has now been approved, and the backlog of U.N. internal audits omitted since late 2008 should be posted "within a matter of weeks."

Meanwhile the U.N. has been oozing signs of rot within. The Obama administration may not look kindly on Fox News, but Rice would be doing herself a service to read a series of recent articles on the U.N. by Fox News Executive Editor George Russell. He's a veteran reporter of the old gumshoe school, with a knack for digging up the kind of U.N. internal documents that the U.S. Mission has stopped posting.

Russell's recent dispatches have included the April 20 story, "U.N.'s Ballooning $732 Million Haiti Peacekeeping Budget Goes Mostly to Its Own Personnel" (not to earthquake stricken Haitians). On April 27 he reported that while the U.N. is telling the rest of the world how to behave to save the planet, an internal U.N. report has documented that the U.N.'s "own environmental housekeeping is a ‘scattered' mess"--costly, opaque, ad hoc and incoherent. In yet another article, April 16, he covered "Pricey Peacekeeping: Ban Gets Blasted for Billion-Dollar Mismanagement," based on a U.N. internal report that described waste, abuses and chronic bungling at the U.N.'s highest levels.
And where's Rice in all this? Richard Grenell, who was the spokesman for the last four American ambassadors to the UN, explained back in January:
We actually heard from Susan Rice more during the presidential campaign when she was a foreign policy adviser to then-candidate Barack Obama than we have over the last year, when she has been representing us at the UN. It has been just over one year since Rice was confirmed by the United States Senate to be the Permanent Representative to the UN and she so far has been wildly inattentive in New York. While Rice has been active in the social scene of Washington and the White House, a new study released by the uber-serious Security Council Report suggests that this past year has been the most inactive Security Council since 1991. For an Administration that promised to utilize the UN and improve our reputation around the world, its dinner-party circuit strategy isn't making America more secure.

Much of the blame for that belongs to Rice and her habitual silence. Rice has not conducted the hard negotiations nor done the sometimes unpopular work of engaging the UN on the United States' priority issues. When Rice does attend UN negotiations, she is all too willing to avoid confrontation. She has instead opted to spend time networking in Washington and making nice with her colleagues in New York. While other foreign Ambassadors speak fondly of Rice and her easy ways, she has been a weak negotiator for the American people.


Rice has been spending several days a week in Washington with her larger than normal DC-based staff and spending less time with the 200-plus employees who work for her in New York. While Rice launched her tenure with a glamour spread in Vogue Magazine by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz showing her kicking back in an empty Security Council Chamber, she seems to not enjoy the Chamber when it's full of diplomats. During the recent Haiti crisis, Rice was not only absent from the Security Council vote to expand the UN's peacekeeping operation but she also failed to call an emergency meeting in the immediate aftermath to request more help. In fact, 7 days after the Haiti earthquake left tens of thousands of people in the streets without food or shelter, it was UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that came to the Security Council to request more troops - the American Ambassador hadn't bothered.
Read the whole thing.

Rice will likely have to be a key player for the Security Council to pass any kind of sanctions against Iran. I guess the UN is in good hands. They're partying like it's 1938 all over again. What could go wrong?


At 9:53 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Obama's penchant for avoiding confrontation and being a fan of multilateral organizations means the UN won't be reformed any time soon.

And that is a blessing in disguise. The last thing Israel needs is a more meddlesome UN.

What could go wrong indeed.


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