February 28, 2011

Bad timing for US to withdraw from the world

Once again, the United Nations plays a role in the world. Changes throughout the Middle East have underscored the Secretary-General's potential as a moral voice. International sanctions against the Qaddafi regime were rapidly adopted through the Security Council. The Human Rights Council, often reduced to slavish condemnations of Israel, has issued condemnations of the massacres in Libya. Major powers are debating whether to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or send in UN Peacekeeping forces, or "Blue Helmets".

The UN has been useful in other crises, including the Haiti earthquake. But more than crises, 99.99 percent of the UN's budget has nothing to do with condemning Israel (OK, so what if it's only 99.8 percent...). World health, hunger, economic development, literacy -- these are global causes that require a global response.

As the situation in Libya reminds us (especially those of us so "blessed" to have interacted with Qaddafi!), a large number of nations are not run democratically. That may be a good reason to support democratic evolution, and even revolution (or counter-revolution) in a few dozen countries, but it is a poor excuse for trashing the UN itself, or walking away from the whole diplomatic exercise, as various UN critics routinely advocate.

The U.S. House of Representatives has even chosen this month -- the biggest month for democratic opportunity in 20 years -- to cut all federal funding for the U.S. Institute of Peace. How could anyone who claims the UN needs to focus more on promoting peace and supporting democracy seriously choose this point in history to pull out of a solidly American enterprise that shepherds nations through the transition to stable democracy and coexistence?

There is no better forum for deliberation among all nations -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- nor any network of institutions meeting global needs more effectively than the United Nations. We should be improving it and using it (and that includes the ICC), not looking to defund it or further undermine its credibility.

Though it is routinely treated with unique and one-sided derision, Israel has not sought to withdraw, and neither should the United States. And the U.S. presence in the UN gives Israel the highest-profile friend imaginable.

The fact is, Israel has few friends in its own region, and much of its relations around the developing world are held hostage to concerns of the Arab and Islamic blocs -- but this would not change if the UN suddenly put on a happy face. Even the outbreak of democracy across the Middle East may not reveal popular Muslim sympathy for the Jewish state.

That is no reason to abandon the UN, which accomplishes painfully less than its full potential but at least carries its own weight overall. It's also no reason to abdicate U.S. global leadership.

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