Saturday, August 09, 2003

I happened to stop on Fox News (sic) Channel for a minute or two. This happens occassionally as it's strategically mislocated between the evil Yankees' (redundant, I know) Channel and MSG Network, both of which sometimes show soccer.

They had two yapping heads talking about Liberia. Surprisingly, they were talking, not shouting. They engaged the standard, fact-free UN-bashing.

One guy, Mort Kondrake I think, was outraged. "How come it's taking the UN 4-6 weeks to send peacekeepers to Liberia?" he thundered. Then they went ranting on about the UN incompetence. The other guy not only didn't correct him but agreed with him. Like I said, standard b.s. Only the Kondrake knows if he is ignorant or willfully deceptive.

Newsflash to those two "experts" on FNC: THE UN IS BANNED FROM HAVING A STANDING ARMY.

This is what annoys me about the UN-bashing in this country. It's mostly uninformed. These "experts" were talking as though the UN had a standing army. Critics here talk about the UN as though it has any inherent authority on its own. As though the Secretary-General (S-G) is something like the president of the world. It's a bunch of nonsense. But what annoys me is that there are people out there listening to these yapping heads who don't know the difference and believe them.

The UN Secretary-General is a figure head, sort of like the Pope in a way. His power is pretty much limited to moral authority. Kondrake acts like the S-G can simply snap his fingers and have troops be somewhere the next day. The S-G has no divisions, as Stalin famously noted of the pontiff. And this is exactly how the US and the other big powers want it.

Some conservatives in this country complain that the UN has too much power, that it's leading us to one world government. Then when it doesn't bend to whatever Washington wants, they deride the UN as weak and incompetent. So my question is this: how can the UN simultaneously be too powerful and ineffectual?

Any deployment of UN peacekeepers requires not only the approval of the Security Council but, and this is the key point, the volunteering of troops by member states. In most UN missions, troops are primarily supplied by less powerful countries like India, Bangladesh and Uruguay.

So when anyone speaks of "the UN," you should ask what that means. "The UN" is many things. To Americans, it's peacekeeping, the Security Council and, to some, "one world government." To people in other countries, "the UN" is the people who feed and house the refugees or organize vaccination campaigns.

Ultimately, "the UN" is whatever member states, especially the rich ones, want it to be. Or not be. This is why I often put "the UN" in quotes. "The UN" is its member countries. Nothing more, nothing less. It's barely an entity in itself..

In answer to Kondrake's question, the reasons it's taking "the UN" is taking 4-6 weeks to send troops to Liberia are these. 1) It took the Security Council a while to authoritze said mission and 2) member states, including the United States, aren't exactly rushing to volunteer peacekeeping troops for the mission.

"The UN" most certainly has its flaws. Some are of its own making (like a New York City-heavy bureaucracy) and others imposed from outside (the slowness of the Security Council and powerlessness of the General Assembly were designed precisely to not give it too much authority at the expense of the big powers). But criticism should at least be informed in order to be taken seriously.

Anyways, either Kondrake or the other commentator opined that President Bush was right to be reticent about sending troops to Liberia because, in his opinion, it would be risking "another Somalia."

Now warnings against another Somalia are what some people automatically use to argue against any deployment of troops in Africa, whether the analogy is accurate or not. This warning was used to scuttle against any possible mission in the Rwandan genocide, even though the situations in Somalia (total chaos) and Rwanda (meticulously planned and executed slaughter) were polar opposites. But given what I know about Liberia and the factions there, this is actually not a totally unfounded fear.

Nevertheless, the argument is ironic. In Somalia, 18 American servicemen were killed on the streets of Mogadishu. It is argued that Americans must, at all costs, avoid "another Somalia," no matter how great the human suffering that we could prevent. 18 American servicemen killed in Africa is unacceptable.

Yet the public was gung ho about invading, conquering and occupying Iraq even though it was all but guaranteed that far more than 18 servicemen would die there, which has proven true.

We've had more than 18 die since President Fighter Pilot declared the end of major hostilities. There have been demonstrations against the occupation in Iraq. In Liberia, the people are IMPLORING us to come. Not just the public either. Both the government and the rebels have invited us. Yet, we go where we're not wanted but refuse to get where they're begging us.

Revisionists in the administration say, "Hey, it's no big deal we can't find weapons of mass destruction, the primary justification for the war. At least we got rid of an evil dictator and that makes us righteous and good." Well, Charles Taylor certainly qualifies as evil dictator. And an indicted war criminal to boot. And he's destabilized more of his neighbors than even Saddam did. Is that enough comparisons to satisfy you?

What's the difference? For those who insist that the Iraq invasion had no economic motive whatsoever, what is the difference? We "conspiracy theorists" are curious.


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