Saturday, March 19, 2005

Mark Steyn on John Bolton and the U.N.

Mark Steyn on John Bolton and the U.N.

You're with a bunch of foreigners and you want them to like you and it's easy to get carried away.

That's what was so stunning about Bolton. In a roomful of Euro-grandees, he was perfectly relaxed, a genial fellow with a rather Mitteleuropean moustache, but he thwacked every ball they served back down their gullets with amazing precision. He was the absolute antithesis of Schmoozer Bill and Pandering Eason: he seemed to relish their hostility. At one event, a startled British cabinet minister said to me afterwards, 'He doesn't mean all that, does he?'

But he does. And that's why the Bolton flap is very revealing about conventional wisdom on transnationalism. Diplomats are supposed to be 'diplomatic'. Why is that? Well, as the late Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson used to say, diplomacy is the art of letting the other fellow have your way. In other words, you were polite, discreet, circumspect, etc., as a means to an end. Not any more. None of John Bolton's detractors is worried that his bluntness will jeopardise the administration's policy goals. Quite the contrary. They're concerned that the administration has policy goals that it isn't yet willing to subordinate its national interest to the polite transnational pieties. In that sense, our understanding of 'diplomacy' has become corrupted: it's no longer the language through which nation states treat with one another so much as the code-speak consensus of a global elite.

For much of the civilised world the transnational pabulum has become an end in itself, and one largely unmoored from anything so tiresome as reality. It doesn't matter whether there is any global warming or, if there is, whether Kyoto will do anything about it or, if you ratify Kyoto, whether you bother to comply with it: all that matters is that you sign on to the transnational articles of faith. The same thinking applies to the ICC, and Darfur, and the Oil-for-Fraud programme, and anything else involving the UN. It was at the heart of Clare Short's freaky objection to the Aussie American post-tsunami relief effort. 'I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to co-ordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN,' she told the BBC. 'Only really the UN can do that job. It is the only body that has the moral authority.'

Leaving aside the question of whether one can be the only body with moral authority when one's tastes run mainly to bodies under the age of 12, the reality is that the UN couldn't do the job. Its permanent 24/7 365-days-a-year humanitarian bureaucracy took a month to get to Banda Aceh. The ad-hoc US Australian operation was on the ground within hours. Miss Short's position seems to be that she'd be willing to forgive Washington's very effective relief effort as long as the Americans were more rhetorically submissive to the UN. In that sense, it's not so much that the American rapid response 'undermined' the UN as that the normal Western deference to the organisation has grossly over-inflated its 'legitimacy' and 'moral authority'.

That's what John Bolton had in mind with his observations about international law: 'It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States.' Just so. When George Bush Sr went through the UN to assemble his Stanley Gibbons coalition for the first Gulf war, it may have been a 'diplomatic triumph' but it was also the biggest single contributing factor to the received wisdom in the decade and a half since that only the UN has the international legitimacy to sanction war to the point where, on the eve of Iraq's liberation, the Church of England decided that a 'just war' could only be one approved by the Security Council. That in turn amplifies the UN's claim to sole global legitimacy in a thousand other areas, big and small the environment, guns, smoking, taxation.

Yet the assumption behind much of the criticism of Bolton from the likes of John Kerry is that, regardless of his government's foreign policy, a UN ambassador has to be at some level a UN booster. Twenty years ago, the then Secretary of State George Schultz used to welcome the Reagan administration's ambassadorial appointments to his office and invite each chap to identify his country on the map. The guy who'd just landed the embassy in Chad would invariably point to Chad. 'No,' Schultz would say, 'this is your country' and point to the United States. Nobody would expect a US ambassador to the Soviet Union to be a big booster for the Soviets. And, given that in a unipolar world the most plausible challenger to the US is transnationalism, these days the Schultz test is even more pertinent for the UN ambassador: his country is the United States, not the ersatz jurisdiction of Kofi Annan's embryo world government.

Reporting on the Bolton appointment in the Financial Times James Harding wrote, 'Mr Bush is eager to re-engage with allies, but is unapologetic about the Iraq war, the policy of pre-emption and the transformational agenda.' 'Unapologetic'? What exactly should he be apologising for? The toppling of Saddam? The Iraq election? The first green shoots of liberty in the desert of Middle Eastern 'stability'? When you unpick the assumptions behind James Harding's sentence, Mr Bush's principal offence is that he remains 'unapologetic' about doing all this without the blessing of the formal transnational decision-making process.

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