Footnote to failure

In his memoir Surrender Is Not An Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, John Bolton recalls his appointment as assistant secretary for International Organization Affairs by President Bush (I) following the 1988 election. The position made him responsible for overseeing the entire UN system. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it, and no one better than John Bolton.

In early 1989, Bolton writes, the PLO had launched a major effort to join several specialized UN agencies in the UN system — “yet another example of the PLO’s perennial strategy to improve its position vis-a-vis Israel by doing anything other than negotiating directly with the Israelis.” The PLO membership campaign followed from the PLO’s 1988 decision to change its name card at the UN from “Palestine Liberation Organization” to “Palestine” — “apparently under the theory that if you sound more like a country than an organization, people will treat you more like a country.”

The next logical step was to have “Palestine” become a member of the various UN agencies, thus further attesting to its status as a “state” in international circles in that membership in the organizations is limited to states. How could the United States effectively oppose the PLO’s charade given the PLO’s wide support at the UN?

The PLO’s first targets were the World Health Organization (in Geneva) and UNESCO (in Paris). In Geneva Bolton told the WHO that the United States would withhold funding if “Palestine” was admitted. The defunding threat had credibility and it worked, but the path was not entirely free of bumps: “It was a wild ride at the decisive meeting, with the Libyan delegate standing on his desk screaming, and the Sandinista from Nicaragua causing all kinds of trouble.”

From Geneva Bolton traveled to Paris to deal with UNESCO. Recall that President Reagan had already withdrawn the United States from UNESCO “to protest its blatant anti-American bias, mismanagement, and corruption and general irrelevance (except to left-wing intellectuals)” although “we were under constant pressure to rejoin.” How could the United States exert leverage against an organization from which it had already withdrawn? “With the WHO experience just a few days old, I was able to tell key UNESCO delegations straightforwardly: Don’t even think about the United States’ rejoining if the PLO were admitted. UNESCO could have America back (maybe, someday) or it could have the PLO, but it couldn’t have both.”

Bolton remembers the warm fuzzies he felt at the time: “Delivering this happy message, I thought Paris in the springtime had never been more beautiful.” I confess again: I love this guy.

Well, times have changed. In the Age of Obama, the United States has become something of a patsy in the service of the higher wisdom. Despite the ostensible opposition of the United States, “Palestine” was admitted to UNESCO late last year, triggering the 1990 law requiring the termination of United States funding of any international organization that recognizes Palestinian statehood in the absence of a peace agreement with Israel; United States funding of UNESCO makes up some 22 percent of the total UNESCO budget.

But that’s not the end of the story. JTA reports: “The Obama administration formally announced its intention to ask Congress to waive a ban on funding UNESCO over its recognition of Palestinian statehood.”

And that’s not all! The Obama administration courageously buried announcement of its intention in a footnote to the budget that the White House submitted to Congress this month.

Will Congress restore funding? That’s not entirely clear, but not if Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has anything to do with it. “Any effort to walk back this funding cutoff will pave the way for the Palestinian leadership’s unilateral statehood scheme to drive on, and sends a disastrous message that the U.S. will fund UN bodies no matter what irresponsible decisions they make,” she said in a statement. The Bolton spirit lives on, if not in the Obama administration.