Sunday, September 18, 2005

Yet another missed opportunity

I was attending a terrorism conference last week and all the speakers kept on talking about how Katrina proved that the US is ill-prepared of dealing with disasters and how we don't capitalize on opportunities that are presented to us. For instance after 9/11, the unity amongst Americans and the sympathy we received from the world was squandered by the invasion of Iraq. The terrible ongoing violance in Iraq, the carnage of innocent Iraqis is not winning the US any brownie points either.

Hurricane Katrina has provided us with other opportunities: some that we have taken such as talking about the status of the poor, especially minorities in this country and how they were affected the most. The ineffectiveness of FEMA and incompetency of the Bush Administration has also been discussed in great detail. What we are not talking about is global warming or climate change. Although, one cannot make a direct correlation about the effects of climate change & Hurricane Katrina, it is fair to say that global warming causes temperatures of seas to rise which causes unstable weather & hurricanes become more frequent.

I have been taking my time because I've been trying to figure out how to express my feelings on the 4th anniversary of 9/11, the worsening situation in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. Today, I got the opportunity as the UN concluded on Friday.

This summer was filled with hope & optimism about the UN summit - it was termed as a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity as the UN celeberated its 6oth anniversary. America was united in its hopes for the United Nations. “There’s no doubt that this is an organization that needs updating and reforming in order to be effective,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “And we are a founding member of the United Nations. We shouldn’t abandon it. We should make it a stronger instrument.”

Drawing on proposals from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a task force led by Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Democratic former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and his Administration’s own ideas, President Bush assembled an ambitious agenda for the UN. The Administration promoted a restructured Human Rights Council that excludes human rights abusers, a Peacebuilding Commission to prevent and resolve conflict in war-torn areas, meet the threat of global terrorism, and restructure the UN’s oversight capacities to make it more efficient.

At the end of July, the U.S. was well on its way to achieving all of these truly groundbreaking proposals. The draft Outcome Document for the Summit included all of them, and U.S. negotiators were well on their way to hammering out the details. The chief obstructionists, Cuba, Venezuela, Egypt, and Pakistan, were increasingly isolated, and ready to fold on key U.S. priorities. We were winning.

Yet, in the end, we lost. The statement signed by Heads of State this week makes little progress toward U.S. goals. In fact, the draft document released six weeks ago would have advanced the U.S. agenda much, much further.

This diplomatic defeat not only stings because of its significance, but because of the ease with which we could have won on many, if not all of our priorities. We need look no further than our own Mission on New York to assert responsibility. Ambassador John Bolton – hailed by the Administration during his confirmation hearings as a crusader of management reform at the UN – could not achieve even that, despite overwhelming momentum on his side.

Within weeks of his appointment and less than a month before the Summit, Ambassador Bolton proposed hundreds of amendments to the draft document, throwing negotiations into turmoil. He outraged developing nations by attempting to remove any mention of the Millennium Development Goals, when merely defining the term would have sufficed to cohere with official U.S. policy. And he then conducted an all-out assault on a provision reaffirming rich countries’ commitment to allocate 0.7% of their national incomes to help poor countries lift themselves out of poverty – even though the Bush Administration affirmed it twice in 2002.

Our point isn’t that the 0.7% target is necessarily a cure-all for the world’s problems; our point is that in part by fighting a relatively harmless provision that the Administration had affirmed in the past, Bolton lost the strong momentum toward important changes at the UN that he inherited upon his appointment. In short, Bolton took his eye off the ball.

The result was a toothless document that satisfied neither developing countries nor the U.S. Thanks to Bolton’s blunder, we have no assurance that the UN will be able to exclude egregious human rights violators from its human rights institutions. We lost out on a definition of terrorism that would pull the moral rug out from under terrorists masquerading as “freedom fighters.” We even lost out on the basic management reforms so high on the U.S. agenda. And the maddening part is that all of these victories were easily within in our grasp.

None of these agenda items are dead, but without the spotlight of the World Summit to expose the obstructionists, it will be much, much harder to move them forward. The lessons from the Summit are clear. Sticks don’t work without carrots.

There is every reason to believe leaders and people of good will are prepared to continue their efforts to renew the UN. The founding principles of the United Nations– greater freedom, deeper cooperation, and respect – bear the distinctive mark of U.S. leadership. Sixty years after the UN’s founding, it needs our leadership again to be stronger and more effective. And to meet the challenges of a new century, we will surely need a strong and effective UN.