Thursday, September 28, 2006

The United Nations and American Nationalism

“One widely posted warning reads, SMOKING DISCOURAGED/VEUILLEZ EVITER DE FUMER, and that says it all about the United Nations, its power and might.” --P.J. O’Rourke, The CEO of the Sofa, 2001

As anti-American feelings grow at the United Nations, we’re starting to get more and more idiot screeds like this one, which appears in today’s Rolla Daily News, and in which William Rusher ponders the question: “Must we put up with the United Nations?” In the face of speeches (Rusher characterizes them as “outbursts”) by President Ahmed Ahmedinejad of Iran and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, neither of whom is a big fan of America at the moment, Rusher feels that America should pick up its bat and go home because, you know, we don’t wanna play rough. Rusher’s reasoning, in the space of an opening paragraph, quickly moves along the logical lines of a child: I’m going home (“why not simply withdraw from the United Nations”), I’m telling (“or at least stop paying a quarter of its expenses”), no, I’m staying, you leave (“or (better yet) tell it to vacate its fancy offices on Manhattan’s East Side and relocate to Paris”). And then he spends the rest of his space justifying his bitchfest.

In Rusher’s history of the United Nations, the UN was founded in 1945 “to provide a dignified forum in which the world’s nations could discuss their problems and their differences in a peaceful setting.” Of course, a cynic might point out that it was actually put in place to provide a peaceful negotiating table for the US and the USSR to divide up Europe upon without turning on one another and extending the war. The United Nations literally played host to the beginning of the Cold War; it was put in place to keep that war cold, lest mushroom clouds start sprouting all over the world. Or, to let P.J. O’Rourke comment again: “A doddering Franklin Roosevelt thought that the naïve United States, enervated Britain, corrupt and impotent Nationalist China, and Stalin’s gulag of a Soviet Union would be the world’s ‘Four Policemen.’ And quite a plot for NYPD Blue that would be.” He goes on to reference Sir Alexander Cadogan, the British UN representative who attended the preliminary 1944 conference, who called the meeting “a foretaste of hell.”

But according to Rusher, “the United Nations behaved reasonably well until about 1960, when an incoming flood of ex-colonial nations seized control of the General Assembly and began using the United Nations as a bargaining tool to extract various concessions (mostly money) from the two sides in the Cold War.” But, that’s actually what the United Nations was set up to do. After the fallout from World War II, nations were supposed to give up their colonial properties, and those colonial properties were nations that had been forced to modernize and now had no idea how to govern themselves. In many cases (say, most of Africa and the Middle East) this resulted in a disaster that has yet to end. And there were two problems inherent in former colonies. First, they were forced (mainly by the UN) to remain in the rather arbitrary borders created by their former imperial masters. And second, having been excluded from the inner workings of the colonial governance, they had no experience governing themselves on anything like a national scale. Now, without going too far into the colonial disaster, let’s just put it this way: you conquer part of Africa, take all the tribes in your area no matter the rivalries, differences of religion, differences of culture, etc, govern them and treat them as slaves/human shields, and then abandon them but force them to remain a country, and then you’re surprised when the varying tribal factions start slaughtering one another for the next hundred years? And since there were two superpowers to turn to, the Democratic US and the Communist USSR, the former colonials were going to go one way or another. Which led to World War III being played on a smaller scale in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, etc.

What Rusher is whining about is that he believes that old claptrap about the United States being the world’s only superpower (though our power and, more importantly, our credibility seems to be evaporating), and he sees the UN as “an instrument for limiting America’s power and thwarting its purposes under the leadership of France and Germany, who not surprisingly sought to counterbalance the United States.” He further laments the “noisy hostility of most UN members to this country.”

How does that not sound like the rhetoric of a man who seems to seriously believe that the United States should be the only superpower in the world? He sounds genuinely depressed that other nations are not accepting the role that people like George W. Bush want them to have: simply put, of being colonial resources to the imperial United States. Has Rusher stopped to consider for a second that Iran and Venezuela might have good reasons not to like the US? Or that other countries might not like us, either? Pat Robertson said publicly that we should murder President Chavez, and Bush didn’t seem too eager to quash that idea. I’m not a fan of President Ahmedinejad by any stretch, but he’s not too happy about us making threats and trying to decide whether or not we should allow him nuclear capabilities. Granted, this needs to be addressed, but Rusher acts as though Iran is overstepping its bounds by being angry about the question. Imagine you’re a small business owner, and the city comes in and starts telling you how you’re “allowed” to conduct your business--what you’re allowed to sell, what kind of facilities you’re allowed to have, whether you can stick a toilet in the back--and you get the idea. Why should Iran be thrilled that the US wants to tell them what to do?

Rusher’s solution to the problem of his hurt nationalism is to “encourage the founding and growth of a new group of the world’s truly democratic nations, dedicated to addressing the world’s problems with their wealth and wisdom, and gradually diminishin the United Nations’s pretentions.” Did that make anyone else laugh? The US has enough problems dealing with its own wealth and wisdom, and Rusher expects us to out-UN the UN? Has he even heard of Iraq? In three years, we haven’t been able to accomplish peace or democracy or anything even approaching stability. So, yeah, the obvious answer is to go around to other countries and do the same thing there? And encouraging democracy is, actually, what we were “officially” doing in Korea and Vietnam, and look how those turned out.

James Burnham suggests that we should continue to support the UN in beneficial matters, but not participate in or vote on political issues, while retaining our veto power to block offensive actions. It’s another suggestion flowing with nationalism and a sense of Manifest Destiny; we shouldn’t participate in the UN, but we should still be able to have control over it. Talk about eating your cake and having it too.

Rusher finally concludes that “there is no reason why the United States must continue to dignify the antics that characterize [the United Nations].” And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is yet another reason Why They Hate Us. Because assholes like Rusher walk around saying, basically, that the UN should bow to our will because their clubhouse is on American soil. That the other countries of the world are somehow beholden to us because we have the grace not to bomb the shit out of them just because we can. That the earth belongs to the US and the rest of the world just mines our resources.

Well, fuck that. That type of thinking, which is sadly prevalent in these conservative times, is utterly asinine. The UN is supposed to be the place to go so world leaders can air these grievances without resorting to war. What else is it for? The United Nations has proven itself nothing if not completely ineffectual since it was founded. For those of us who love to keep score and are students of history, let’s take a look at some of the UN’s “achievements.”

The UN:
1. caused the 1948 Arab-Israeli War with their controversial and nigh-illegal partition of Palestine, which displaced millions of people by forcibly removing them from their homes;
2. allowed China to simply roll in and take over Tibet, subjugating its people and crushing its freedom;
3. allowed the Korean War to break out, which was basically a proxy war between the US and the combined forces of the USSR and Red China;
4. did almost nothing to stop Israel from murdering and conquering its way down the Arab Peninsula during the 1956 Suez Crisis, simply because they thought Egypt wasn’t going to allow them access to the Canal;
5. sat on the sidelines when Russia invaded Hungary in 1956;
6. sent troops to forcibly stop the province of Katanga from seceding from the former Belgian Congo, which was in a state of anarchy at the time;
7. claimed it couldn’t interfere with internal matters and allowed Nigeria to slaughter the new Republic of Biafra, who had seceded from Nigeria;
8. proved the utter powerlessness of its “peacekeeping force” (that oxymoron must be on purpose) by basically sending troops to not participate in the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon;
9. did nothing to stop the Vietnam War, another proxy war between the US and the USSR for supremacy in Asia;
10. didn’t even seem to notice when the Soviet army put down protestors in Czechoslovakia with extreme force in 1968;
11. simply watched the Tutsi genocide of Hutus in Burundi and the Hutu genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda;
12. allowed Idi Amin to expel all the Asians from Uganda;
13. overlooked Pol Pot’s reign of Khmer Rouge terror in Cambodia;
14. refused to help Iraqis overthrow Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War;
15. refused to do anything about Slobodan Milosevic and his war crimes in the former Yugoslavia;
16. refused to do anything about the Taliban in Afghanistan until America forced the issue;
17. never acted on other crimes against humanity in Somalia, East Timor, etc;
18. slaps us on the wrist every year for blockading Cuba, but refuses to do anything to help the Cubans (unless they’re rich refugees associated with organized crime).

P.J. O’Rourke points out most of these in The CEO of the Sofa, and adds: “I could go on, and the UN doubtless will.”

So, it’s not like the UN is doing anything anyway, except providing comfy seats for delegates who want to sit and listen to why foreign presidents are critical of a country that is trying to rule them without bothering to understand them. But I have to ask the question: when people like Rusher cry that the rest of the world hates us, are they really listening to the reasons why? Or do they seriously think America isn’t doing anything wrong?


Sherry said...

Democracy: Freedom or Forced Ideals?

Far too many things that I want to touch on about this post, but my words are getting lost in the maddening speed of my thoughts and I can't articulate them out of my fingertips.

You know what comes to mind whenever I think about the UN? - In this day and age ... an easy target to wipe out world leaders. And they always stay at the Waldorf.

I'm going to have to take a look at this book when I get a chance. It's funny cause I just passed over Peace Kills the other day. Sofa first though, right?

SamuraiFrog said...

Either way; Sofa's a little dated now, but he's always funny.

james m. n. said...

hey, i loved this blog entry you wrote, and was thinking of using what i learned from this post to write a paper in black studies on (destabilization in african nations). i was wondering if you could perhaps point me in any sort of direction in terms to sources to which you learned this from.