United Nations Silence on Revolution in Egypt Is Deafening

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The New York Sun

 UNITED NATIONS – While the Middle East undergoes a remarkable transformation, one New York spot that remains almost defiantly uninterested – and totally irrelevant – is Turtle Bay. Like the Baskerville Hound, the United Nations won’t bark.

Our ambassador here, Susan Rice, is finalizing a “major address” she’s expected to deliver tonight at Portland, where the World Affairs Council of Oregon is meeting. The title of her address — “Facing 21st Century Threats: Why America Needs the United Nations.”

Good question.

At the height of the Egypt crisis, the General Assembly convened to launch an “international year of forests,” complete with earth shaking rhetoric about the need for tree preservation. In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, spoke against the use of the death penalty around the world. Members of the Security Council, who are charged with averting threats to international peace and security, leisurely went through the motions of out their February schedule.

Washington, wisely, refrained so far from urging any United Nations organ to get involved in its delicate Cairo diplomacy. Uninvolved, the American mission to the U.N. conducted a Monday briefing on America’s forest activities.

How about Secretary General Ban? Reacting to President Mubarak’s resignation, he released a bland statement today, saying, “I respect what must have been a difficult decision, taken in the wider interests of the Egyptian people.” Russia and China criticized earlier statements as interventionist even though they were just as bland.

Mr. Ban, who is expected to soon launch a campaign for a second term, where he would need the support of all the big U.N. powers, spent the first week of the Egypt crisis attending an African Union summit in Addis Ababa. He didn’t even think of altering his schedule to visit the wild streets of neighboring Cairo.

Israel’s ambassador here, Meron Reuben, tried last week to alert the Security Council to one aspect of the Middle East turmoil – the increased firing of missiles into Israel from Gaza, where Hamas is emboldened by its hope that its nemesis, President Mubarak, is about to fall. To prevent “further conflict in our region,” Mr. Reuben wrote, “Israel expects the Security Council, the Secretary-General, and the international community to firmly condemn all of these attacks.” He shouldn’t hold his breath. The U.N. is not in the habit of addressing attacks on Israel prior to Israel’s response.

That fact didn’t escape the newly-minted chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican of Florida, who, just prior to the events that shook Washington’s relations with practically every Arab capital, invited some of the U.N.’s most prominent critics to Washington, for a hearing on the institutions.

Among those testifying was the former head of the U.N. procurement task force, Robert Appleton, who successfully uncovered $630 million allegedly fraudulent contracts. Mr. Ban then unceremoniously showed him the door, blocking Mr. Appleton’s promotion to head the internal investigation unit as the task force was dissolved. Last week the U.N.’s internal watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, was busy denying allegations that it’s burying files that were uncovered during Mr. Appleton’s tenure.     

Turtle Bay and its American advocates have good reasons for resisting. A new round of exposures involving bureaucratic misdeeds could lead an emboldened Congress, where budget cutters are increasingly vocal, to rethink America’s contribution to the United Nations. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, among others, favors changing the system: instead of Turtle Bay deciding how much America contributes, legislators would determine which U.N. programs to finance.

Such voluntary-based system scares funds-hungry U.N. Pooh-Bahs. But before convincing Americans that the United Nations is an essential policy tool for Washington, Ms. Rice may want to work harder on bringing to New York an ambassador to replace Mark Wallace. Until two years ago Mr. Wallace was charged by the American mission to keep an eye on the United Nations management. Lack of American oversight will only embolden critics of the institutions.

Ms. Rice may also want to explain to her Portland listeners how is it that while Washington is so busy retooling its policy toward the new realities of one of the world’s most volatile regions, its ambassador has no other pressing assignment than traveling to Oregon. After all, if America indeed needed the United Nations so badly, she would be in New York.

The New York Sun

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