Gunning against UN peacekeeping


Chicago Boyz fancy themselves as hard-nosed, free-enterprise economics sorts of guys (as opposed to capitalists — but let’s not let Texas education politics muddy the waters).  It seems to me, too often people who self-label themselves as skeptics are not, and those who label themselves as “just give me the facts” sorts of people don’t really want to look at the facts at all.

A recent Chicago Boyz post expresses excitement about Republican investigations into corruption, which would indeed be news were it directed at corruption among Republicans in Congress, and good news at that.  Despite the hopeful ambiguity of the statement, I gather the author favors investigations into corruption in the UN, as if that were one of the top problems we face in the world today.

Corruption is not pretty.  Corruption should be prosecuted.  Corruption is not the target of the Chicago Boyz and their fellow travelers, however — the UN itself is.

Do they know what they’re talking about?  I have my doubts.  James Rummel complains about UN corruption in humanitarian missions after 9/11.  Um, don’t look now, boyz, but you’re confusing things.  The UN is located in New York, but didn’t carry out humanitarian missions there after 9/11.  Of course, that’s not what they meant to imply — Rummel was complaining about the Oil for Food program in Iraq, which was set up in 1996 to allow Iraq’s people to get needed food and medicines from foreign suppliers, food and medicine that had been cut off as a result of Gulf War I, putting Iraqi citizens in dire straits.  (The mention of 9/11 was just gratuitous red meat to the conservatives, probably.)

Ultimately the program was found to be riddled with fraud.  The UN shouldered blame, but a careful reading of the Volcker Report on the incident shows facts we should consider:  The fraud was contrary to UN guidelines — that is, not caused by the UN — and the UN could not monitor the program adequately because it was underfunded.  Why was the UN program underfunded?  In 1996, all UN programs were underfunded because North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms successfully cut U.S. funding because of his allegations of fraud and waste — allegations that didn’t bear out.  In addition, political considerations pushed operations to high-cost contractors.  In particular, the U.S. didn’t want Swiss banks to be in on the operation at all.

So, the last time the Republicans went after the UN  for fraud and abuse, the Republicans’ actions caused fraud and abuse. And if we look to pin blame for the problems, fingers point to the U.S.

Oy.

I don’t think a new investigation and cutting funding to the UN makes a lot of sense, now.

Rummel also complains that UN sanctions didn’t seem to affect Saddam Hussein after 9/11.  This is astonishingly selective memory.  All evidence we have now indicates that there were no weapons of mass destruction — and, consequently, the judgment must be that the UN sanctions worked, and worked well.  This is a continuing embarrassment to the United States, and while we wish it were ancient history and could be forgotten, we do so at great peril as we deal with every other nation on Earth who well remembers that the U.S. invaded Iraq to stop the spread of “weapons of mass destruction,” only to find there were none.  Don’t embarrass the U.S. further by looking dotty in foreign relations.  (Were I feeling snarkier, I’d put in a link to Bush’s “humorous” show at one of the Washington correspondents association dinners, where he feigned searching for WMDs in the Oval Office, under White House beds, etc.)

But then, in comments, the truth starts to get smoked out in comments at Chicago Boyz.  One commenter complains about all the socialist nations sitting on the human rights commission, including the U.S.    One commenter complains about how ineffective  the UN has been in making peace in Korea, Vietnam, and Israel.

Oversimplifying, but no more so than Chicago Boyz, we should note that the truce in Korea has held for more than 57 years, even without a formal end to hostilities.  That sounds rather successful, to me.  And Israel’s existence since 1948 seems to have caught hold, even if to the chagrin of major Arabic groups in the region.  Israel is generally considered the great power in the area.  Not exactly a failed enterprise on the UN’s part, on that score.

Vietnam?  That was never a UN project. Much as it pains me to point it out, it was the U.S. who stopped elections in Vietnam in the 1950s (1956?), and it was the South Vietnamese government whose corruption so often derailed attempts to make a lasting peace that would have kept any part of Vietnam noncommunist.  (Investigations into corruption, anyone?)

So, of the three so-called “failed” UN peacekeeping projects, two really were very successful, and the third had nothing to do with the UN.  Is this the accuracy and level of analysis that calls for an investigation of the UN now?

A complete set of facts might be useful before going off half-cocked.  Since 1948 the UN was called in for 64 peacekeeping operations — the UN has no troops, and so cannot wage war nor force war-waging nations to stop.  If we conceded the two operations, Israel and Korea, as failures, that would leave 62 other operations unstudied.  Most of those missions ended years ago, and without making an actual count, I’ll wager most of them ended successfully.  We don’t regard Guatemala anymore as a hotbed of unrest and civil war, for example.  Angola isn’t perfect, but neither is there a civil war there fueled by Cuban assistance, for another example.

One commenter complaints about a “fantasy world” about the UN that the left occupies:

One of the big differences between the Left and Right is that the Left is more controlled by fantasy narratives and can’t separate the real world organization from the one that Leftists would like to have. In other words, they can’t separate the real world U.N. from the noble goals it is supposed to achieve.

Quite the opposite, it’s the right who occupy a hallucinogenic world with regard to the UN, unable to count accurately even the peace operations of the UN, and unable to accurately state the history of operations they wish to criticize.  Fantasy narratives in this case reside almost completely on the right.  Rightists can’t separate the real world UN from the ignoble beast they wish to crucify.

They hope to take the UN hostage to begin the crucifixion, soon.

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One Response to Gunning against UN peacekeeping

  1. Shannon Love says:

    The fraud was contrary to UN guidelines …

    Oh well then, that’s okay. It’s not as if anyone is supposed to create accounting systems based on the idea that someone will try to steal from the system. No, wait, reverse that, you are supposed to create accounting systems based on the premise that someone will try to subvert it. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the entire point of accounting isn’t it?

    I mean we don’t let private companies off the hook when some employee rips off the company, customers and the government. We don’t let the company say that, “embezzlement is against company policy,” do we? In fact we assume that having good accounting is simply one of the basic requirements of well functioning organization of any kind.

    Why shouldn’t the U.N. be held to such trivial basic standards as well? More to the point, why should basic sound accounting be a point of contention at all? People with nothing to hide welcome sound accounting to protect their reputations. Given the UNs position in the world, it should have the cleanest books of any public institution in the world.

    …and the UN could not monitor the program adequately because it was underfunded.

    Gotta love this argument, “Hey, you know that big chunk of money we mismanaged? Well, we couldn’t manage it because you didn’t give us enough money. If you give us a lot more money we will be manage it all better” Only government can get away with arguments like that.

    More to the point, the Volker commission did not conclude the problem was underfunding. The supervision of the Oil for Food program was paid for by the program itself. They had (literally) tons of money to pay for accounting and tracking they simply choose not to. The reason it was riddled with fraud is that the UN in general is riddled with fraud. For the UN having hundreds of millions disappear from one of its programs was just another day at the office.

    The problem with people like you is that you’re so enamored with the utopian ideal of the UN that you can’t see the serious faults of the real world organization. In other words, you can’t separate the fantasy UN from the real UN. You interpret any criticism of the real world UN as an attack on the ideals behind the fantasy UN.

    The acid test of an organization is found in its failures. Successes might just be dumb luck but failures, especially repeated failures, result from institutional flaws that must be addressed.

    The UN can’t fulfill its ideals if it can’t function in the real-world by meeting real-world practical standards. It’s just that simple. If you actually care about the idea of the UN you have to care about how it really works where the rubber meets the road.

    Like

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