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In a sharply worded speech Tuesday in New York, UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown took the Bush administration and Congress to task for a self-defeating approach to the United Nations. Even as they turn to the UN to accomplish a variety of indispensable tasks, he complained, U.S. political leaders fail to defend the world body from scurrilous attacks from the likes of “Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.”
For example, a New York Times report (registration required) said:
In a highly unusual instance of a United Nations official singling out an individual country for criticism, Mr. Malloch Brown said that although the United States was constructively engaged with the United Nations in many areas, the American public was shielded from knowledge of that by Washington's tolerance of what he called "too much unchecked U.N.-bashing and stereotyping."
The ultimate outcome of this cynical strategy, Malloch Brown rightly notes, will be to discredit the United Nations in the eyes of the American people and deprive the US of a key arrow in its foreign policy quiver.
Sitting in the audience while Malloch Brown spoke to the conference (on Power and Superpower: Global Leadership in the 21st Century co-sponsored by the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress), I was struck by the spectacle of a sitting senior UN official publicly rebuking its most powerful member state and founder.
The immediate source of Malloch Brown's ire is Washington’s return to a tactic of the 1990s - the threat to withhold its share of the UN budget to impose management reform on the world body. Unless it gets the reforms it wants by June, the Bush administration threatens to shut the world body down. Other member states, particularly in the G-77, are predictably balking at this demand.
But Malloch Brown’s broader critique was even more persuasive. By focusing only on the UN’s failings -- and treating it as a convenient scapegoat for U.S. foreign policy failures -- the administration undercuts the domestic political support needed for continual (rather than episodic) constructive engagement with the world body. What the UN needs, is "tough love" - a willingness not only to hold the UN to account but to constantly nurture it so that it is there when we need it. The more prevalent pattern in recent years might be labeled "domestic violence."