The bull in the china shop or the cop in the brothel

Mark Steyn on the Bolton nomination. Steyn’s core observation, that “John Bolton’s sin is to have spoken the truth about the international system,” seems incontrovertible. Initially, the opposition relied on Bolton’s hard-hitting statements about the U.N. Had Bolton only talked sweetly about this disgraceful body, no one would have cared whether (like such past ambassadors as Richard Holbrooke and Madeleine Albright) he has an unpleasant disposition.
Steyn agrees with Cliff May that “the real debate is between those who think the U.N. needs reform — and those who think the U.S. needs reform.” In fairness, Senator Voinovich and others always say that the U.N. needs to be reformed. But they make two assumptions that render this statement effectively meaningless. First, they assume that the U.N. needs to be reformed in the way that a wayward U.S. bureaucracy might need reform. To the extent they think about U.N. reform at all (as opposed to merely paying lip-service to the concept), they seem tp have in mind removing a few corrupt officials and changing reporting relationships. They fail to recognize that, for a critical mass of U.N. members, corruption is a way of life. And they fail to recognize that the U.N.’s inherent defects go well-beyond corruption. It is not corrupt for members like Iran, Syria, Libya, Zimbabwe, and Iraq under Saddam to have key positions on U.N. commissions regarding such issues as human rights, proliferation, and weapons of mass destruction. But the U.N. cannot be taken seriously as long as it permits such outcomes.
In this context, the second assumption of Bolton’s opponents — that reform can best be achieved through a less in-your-face approach than Bolton’s — is also off-the-mark. Only by adopting an inappropriately sanguine view of what ails the U.N. can one believe that anything other than an aggressive, tough-talking ambassador can get the job done. If the U.N. is as flawed as its serious critics contend, then the minute one adopts a conciliatory posture — the only way to make friends at the U.N. — the game is lost.
Senators like Voinovich should not be able to get away with vague statements that the U.N. needs to be reformed, and unsupported assertions that there are lots of potential ambassadors who can accomplish this. Voinovich and other opponents who claim to be pro-reform should tell us what reforms they think are needed, why these reforms would be adequate, and how they can be achieved through an approach that won’t alienate other countries, including so-called allies, who have a stake in business-as-usual at Turtle Bay.
Steyn is right. To the Voinovich’s of the world, the U.N. is still a great hope for world peace and harmony, if only the graft can be curbed. And the U.S. (symbolized by Bolton) is the bull in china shop, not the cop in the brothel.


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