At one time many of us were worried that the U.S. would pull out of the UN and other international organizations in a fit of isolationism. As it happens, almost as frightening is an equally xenophobic American determination to stay in and hack them to our own image under the war cry of “Do as we say, not do as we do.” The administration wants the world to realize: America is the only Superpower and its decisions on the rules are final. Watch out Kofi Annan.
Leading the charge for the U.S. supremacist activists is John Bolton, whom the Senate confirmed as Under Secretary of State for Disarmament and International Security last year. In sending Bolton’s nomination to the Senate and imposing this right-wing ideologue on the State Department, President Bush signaled the direction of his foreign policy, namely that the U.S. doesn’t intend to exercise global leadership or participate in global partnerships. Instead, we intend to do our own thing notwithstanding what anybody else thinks about it.
In 1999 Mr. Bolton himself had attacked “Kofi Annan’s UN Power Grab,” which he alleged was based on trying to establish the supremacy of UN forces. But why should reactionary bluster from an obscure State Department appointee signal any real threat? As events over the past few months have made clear, Bolton and other right-wing ideologues in the administration are methodically pursuing an agenda aimed at undermining multilateralism as a principle for managing global affairs.
At first glance, it may seem that Bolton’s unprecedented unsigning of the agreement establishing the International Criminal Court is the ultimate in challenges to our allies and to any hopes of a multilateral order based on law and consensus. However, withdrawal from an international body may not be the worst thing the administration can do to it. Indeed, once it became plain that the U.S. was pulling out of the ICC, the rest of the world rushed to ratify the treaty with unprecedented speed to ensure the Court’s organizational and financial security.
Under the Bush administration, it is becoming increasingly evident that the U.S. can cause more damage to multilateral organizations by staying in them and shaping them to its ends. We have ample demonstration of this strategy in the successful lobbying by the U.S. to oust Mary Robinson as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, its removal of Robert Watson as head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and most ominously of all, the ouster of Jose Bustani as head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Just before he was dismissed. Bustani eloquently warned: “By dismissing me, an international precedent will have been established whereby any duly elected head of any international organization would at any point during his or her tenure remain vulnerable to the whims of one or a few major contributors. They would be in a position to remove any Director General, or Secretary General, from office at any point in time.”
It is not only personnel decisions that can be perverted. For example, in April the U.S. was moving resolutions in the Security Council, while actually allowing and indeed encouraging Israel to thwart their content, thus undermining the credibility of the United Nations, and indeed of American diplomacy. This duplicity is, of course, in line with what Bolton himself describes as the Bush doctrine. The U.S. should recognize obligations only when it’s in our interest.
Indeed, in part as a result of those resolutions, rumblings from the new Christian Right/Likud Axis suggest that the next in the frame for firing may be Peter Hansen, the director of UNRWA, for his temerity in describing the effects of Israeli military incursions on the Palestinian refugees under his care. There have already been congressional hearings on scurrilous allegations against the refugee organization threatening the U.S. contribution of $90 million. Similarly Kofi Annan has now been scapegoated in right-wing circles for saying what the rest of the world thinks about the American go-it-alone approach to international engagement.
Washington is waging more than a war on terrorism. We are also seeing an international witch-hunt targeting international officials whose devotion to duty and multilateralism make them targets of U.S. wrath.