Wednesday, September 22

UN-successful?

I didn't get to see the President's speech to the UN yesterday, but I just finished reading through it. It wasn't anything groundbreaking, but it reaffirmed to me that President Bush possesses a grand and comprehensive vision that so many leaders lack. It is a vision of "liberty's century", as liberty is the last best hope for stability in a broken world. He has held firm to the resolution offered to a stunned nation less than 12 hours after the carnage we all remember:

"We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."

He still knows now what he knew that night. He, and many others, knew it then because the storm had gathered for years, even decades, and in one sharp moment it all crystallized. He knows it is the only option we have.

And that must frustrate him as he stands before a body founded on such high ideals and foundering in its pursuit of them.

My analysis of the President's remarks:

As I said, nothing groundbreaking. He offered a few familiar (though still valid) points that support Rick Brady's "Leg #3" in the case for war in Iraq. Leg #3 states:

(a successful war would) "create the conditions for long-term change in the middle east - a free and prosperous Arab nation in the middle east that will serve as a beacon of hope for millions"

The key lines in Bush's speech that support this "leg" are:

"We know that free peoples embrace progress and life, instead of becoming the recruits for murderous ideologies."

"In this young century, our world needs a new definition of security. Our security is not merely found in spheres of influence, or some balance of power. The security of our world is found in the advancing rights of mankind."

Nowhere is this security more critical or tenuous than the Middle East.

"We've witnessed the rise of democratic governments in predominantly Hindu and Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian cultures. Democratic institutions have taken root in modern societies, and in traditional societies. When it comes to the desire for liberty and justice, there is no clash of civilizations. People everywhere are capable of freedom, and worthy of freedom.

"Nor is there any -- only one form of representative government -- because democracies, by definition, take on the unique character of the peoples that create them. Yet this much we know with certainty: The desire for freedom resides in every human heart. And that desire cannot be contained forever by prison walls, or martial laws, or secret police. Over time, and across the Earth, freedom will find a way."

I like this rebuke of those who suggest that a form of democratic government cannot be established in the Middle East. No, democracy American-style isn't likely to work, but:

"In the words of the Burmese democracy advocate, Aung San Suu Kyi: 'We do not accept the notion that democracy is a Western value. To the contrary; democracy simply means good government rooted in responsibility, transparency, and accountability.'"

Of Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush said:

"These two nations will be a model for the broader Middle East, a region where millions have been denied basic human rights and simple justice. For too long, many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused, oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability. Oppression became common, but stability never arrived. We must take a different approach. We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom, and strive to build a community of peaceful, democratic nations."

Everything seems to have changed since the UN's founding- except for the mindset of the UN. When will a majority of the member states awaken to the reality that the approaches that have failed in the past will fail again? Bush has shown visionary leadership on this issue, and true leadership makes people uncomfortable.

Bush also said of the progress in Iraq:

"This commitment to democratic reform is essential to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict."

The above is a crucial point to bolster Leg #3. Though it seems obvious, it always ought to be part of the discussion.

"Our great purpose is to build a better world beyond the war on terror."

It's crucial that we realize that the stability of our world depends on more than just eliminating terrorist hotbeds. I think it is a fairly effective approach to suggest that the work continues on many fronts.

One area I found the speech lacking, though, was the continued vagueness with reference to the future of Iraq. The President made passing reference to terrorist opposition and the training of security forces in advance of Iraq's elections, but nothing in the way of a timetables for troop withdrawals and/or a shift in role for the UN. Maybe this wasn't the time to offer timetables.

Bush went on to renew several proposals, including debt relief for developing nations and a call for a comprehensive cloning ban. Most notably, he addressed the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan.

"At this hour, the world is witnessing terrible suffering and horrible crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan, crimes my government has concluded are genocide. The United States played a key role in efforts to broker a cease-fire, and we're providing humanitarian assistance to the Sudanese people. Rwanda and Nigeria have deployed forces in Sudan to help improve security so aid can be delivered. The Security Council adopted a new resolution that supports an expanded African Union force to help prevent further bloodshed, and urges the government of Sudan to stop flights by military aircraft in Darfur. We congratulate the members of the Council on this timely and necessary action. I call on the government of Sudan to honor the cease-fire it signed, and to stop the killing in Darfur."

The WaPo has an excellent editorial that serves as a good briefing on the situation in Darfur, especially for those seeking to enter the ongoing conversation.

It is situations like this one that expose absurdities inherent in the UN, namely that oppressive governments such as China's use their position on the Security Council to hinder humanitarian relief. Yet the UN allows the Chinese and Russians to jerk everyone else around while thousands perish. (HT: Rick Brady)

"Resolutions" don't seem to mean much to governments that are already behaving lawlessly, so there needs to be some arm-twisting. The UN needs to flex a little muscle, and swift action is required. How, then, can an organization have any legitimacy if its heavyweight members act in direct defiance of its stated ideals? It can't, and it doesn't.

Nothing illustrates that better than this:

"[Saddam Hussein] agreed in 1991, as a condition of a cease-fire, to fully comply with all Security Council resolutions -- then ignored more than a decade of those resolutions. Finally, the Security Council promised serious consequences for his defiance. And the commitments we make must have meaning. When we say "serious consequences," for the sake of peace, there must be serious consequences. And so a coalition of nations enforced the just demands of the world."

Against the UN's wishes, yet justified by UN resolutions, the President took action to preserve some of the UN's credibility- action that Kofi Annan derided as "illegal."

Toward the end of the speech, Bush offered this:

"Because I believe the advance of liberty is the path to both a safer and better world, today I propose establishing a Democracy Fund within the United Nations. This is a great calling for this great organization. The fund would help countries lay the foundations of democracy by instituting the rule of law and independent courts, a free press, political parties and trade unions. Money from the fund would also help set up voter precincts and polling places, and support the work of election monitors."

This doesn't seem too radical, but I'm not sure how sound of a proposal it is. Obviously there are details involved that are over my head, but it sounds to me that we're attempting to peddle a sort of democracy-in-a-box. That doesn't seem to mesh well with Bush's earlier statements on the varied nature of democracy, but I suppose the basic building blocks (a free press, trade unions, etc.) he mentions instituting are not unique to American democracy. Is there anything significant, then, about this proposal?

2 Comments:

At September 22, 2004 at 11:17 AM, Blogger Shawna said...

Josh,

Fantastic work! Thinking back over Bush's speech yesterday, I was also disturbed that he did not mention Iran as I had hoped. The situation there is perilous, as that nation continues to pursue nuclear capability. I had hoped he would address the U.N. on this issue.

I'll check in on your blog to see what else you have. I credit Rick with helping us to find each other and discuss these issues together.

 
At September 23, 2004 at 8:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant article! Just found your blog site yesterday and am looking forward to your future postings. I certainly hope you are a journalism major.

 

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