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Jewish World Review May 10, 2001 / 17 Iyar, 5761

Clarence Page

Clarence Page
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Consumer Reports

U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam -- A foreign policy interview with myself:

Q: Hey, dude, what's this I hear about the United Nations kicking Uncle Sam around?

A: Yes, I suppose you could say that. The United States was voted off the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission. That's the body that monitors outrages like torture and slavery around the world. The United States won't be on it for the first time since Eleanor Roosevelt helped initiate the body in 1948. The same body of voters also ousted us from the U.N.'s International Narcotics Control Board.

Q: So, if we're off the human rights panel, who's left on it?

A: Oh, among others, you've got some of the world's worst human-rights abusers, like China, Cuba, Sudan, Libya, Algeria, Syria, Vietnam, Sierra Leone and Pakistan. That's just for starters.

Q: What an insult! What an outrage! How'd this happen?

A: Call it a victory for the U.N.'s Torture Caucus. That's what I call the tyrannical states that have effectively banded together to scapegoat the United States and protect themselves from criticism by the United Nations. Tyrannical despots can't shrug off U.N. criticism as easily as they try to dismiss the United States.

Q: Who do those little tinpot dictators think they are?

A: Hey, they couldn't have voted us off without help from some of our allies among the world's leading democracies. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States had 43 votes wrapped up in writing before the secret balloting. But those somehow got whittled down to only 29 votes in the wheeling, dealing and vote-swapping that goes on behind the scenes. Politics is politics. When the votes were counted, we came in fourth behind Sweden, Austria and France for the three available seats.

Q: What? What's the deal with our so-called European allies? Are the French acting up again?

A: No, we can't just blame the French. Since the vote was secret, it is hard to say how many of the 29 votes we received came from the European Union, and Powell says he's not asking. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the European Union votes for us probably were "very few."

Q: So what's their beef?

A. The world's resentments against us go back a ways. Our allies are annoyed by what President Bush's supporters call "unilateralism" but the rest of the world sees as isolationism, like we don't need to consult with them anymore.

For instance, they don't like Washington's refusal to support the Kyoto treaty to control greenhouse gases. The ozone layer covers all of us, you know.

A lot of them don't like Bush's missile defense "shield" idea, either.

Q: Hey, Bush is offering to protect our allies with it, too, isn't he? And they don't even have to pay for it.

A: Yes, but they have this persistent wish to be consulted first about something big, especially when it means scrapping the existing anti-ballistic missile treaties. People like to be asked befo

re you decide to build a fence around their property, even if you think it is for their own good. Q: So, it's all Bush's fault? Is that what this is about?

A: Nah. Long before Kyoto, Washington refused to ratify important treaties on land mines, women's rights, children's rights, the Law of the Sea treaty and a proposed International Criminal Court, among a host of other agreements. For one reason or another, we didn't think they suited our interests. Meanwhile, a lot of U.N. members, including our allies, feel as resentful as a neglected spouse.

Q: Oh, yeah? Well, we should show them who the world's last remaining superpower is! We should threaten to withdraw our ambassador.

A: Oops! Not so fast. We don't have an ambassador to the United Nations at the moment. The Bush administration has a nominee, John Negroponte but hasn't gotten around to sending him to the Senate for confirmation. I guess the president's got other things on his mind. We don't want to overtax him, do we?

Q: Well, how about withholding our dues?

A: Oops! We're doing that already. We haven't paid our dues for several years. Every time Congress gets mad at the United Nations, we hold up the payment, even after Ambassador Richard Holbrooke negotiated a reduction in the assessment late last year. That dues threat has lost some of its steam.

Q: Well, then, we'll just go our own way. We won't pay attention to what the United Nations says.

A: Oops! Looks like we're doing a pretty good job of that already.

Q: Aren't you being too hard on Bush? He understands humility. He said so when he came into office. "If we are an arrogant nation, they will resent us," he said. "If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us."

A: "Humble" and "strong." Nice words. They go together like "compassionate" and "conservative." I can't wait to find out what they mean.

Q: Are you trying to say that the human-rights commission vote shows our chickens coming home to roost?

A: Looks like that. Unfortunately for those who turn to the human-rights commission for help, the foxes are watching the henhouse.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


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