Los Angeles Times
November 2, 2004
I want to cast my vote in favor of the United Nations.
Some Americans like to talk as if the U.N. exists merely for the convenience of the Third World, forgetting that it was the United States that fought to create an inclusive international forum to help restrain mankind's new ability to destroy itself.
With the radioactive dust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still in the air, it was shock over our own human barbarism that led this country to push aggressively for a world organization that would allow negotiation to take precedence over brute force, communication over willful misunderstanding.
In the decades since, the U.N. has undertaken hundreds of largely thankless humanitarian, arms control, nation-building and peacekeeping missions. If these actions have not cured man's rapaciousness and cruelty, they have certainly helped save countless lives and arguably prevented a third world war.
Yet, even as we once again call on the organization to help broker peace and elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, American politicians find the U.N. an irresistible piñata, ripe for demagogic bashing. When the president honored United Nations Day last week in a routine annual resolution and then asked state governors to follow suit, for example, opportunist Texas Gov. Rick Perry refused to sign the symbolic proclamation. It's not surprising, because the Texas Republican Party believes that the United States should leave the U.N. altogether.
Of course, such posturing does a disservice to the many U.N. "blue helmets" who have died in the cause of peace over the last five decades. Even more important than their bravery, however, has been the U.N.'s work in helping to restrain the proliferation of nuclear weapons. For more than a decade, to cite one example, the U.N. ably supervised the elimination of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction despite Hussein's trickery and resistance, as well as the CIA's stupid infiltration of the inspection teams. The CIA action gave Iraq's dictatorship an excuse to kick the inspectors out of the country at one point.
Yet in this year's presidential campaign, both sides consistently managed to deny the obvious: In Iraq, the U.N. inspectors got it all right, while the top American military, political and intelligence leaders got it all wrong.
As American inspectors finally admitted this past month, there simply were no weapons of mass destruction left in Iraq, and no serious effort was being made by Hussein's government to manufacture them, no matter what George W. Bush or John F. Kerry wrongly believed before the invasion.
Yet nobody in either party who supported the war has the integrity to apologize to the United Nations and its inspectors, who were chased out of the country before a war campaign that Johns Hopkins University researchers estimate has killed 100,000 Iraqis to date.
Proof of the stolid effectiveness of the U.N. came again last week when it was revealed that a cache of 377 tons of powerful explosives located and sealed by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency — the International Atomic Energy Agency — before the war had gone missing after the American invasion of Iraq. American military commanders in the field were not informed of the location of high-intensity explosives sites or of the significance of the United Nations' seals.
The U.S. prevented the U.N. inspectors from returning to the country, while experts believe the special explosives — powerful enough to blow up skyscrapers or trigger nuclear warheads — may have been used by insurgents in bombings that have killed hundreds of American troops and thousands of Iraqis.
Yet, in a classic case of blaming the messenger, some in the media have accused the U.N. of interfering in U.S. electoral politics by calling attention to the missing explosives. "The U.N. used 377 tons of high-grade Iraqi explosives to announce its opposition to reelecting George W. Bush," wailed a Wall Street Journal editorial.
In response to the sniping of U.N.-bashers, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, was forced to point out the obvious: "There is a world out there other than the American election."
Yes, and it is a world that clearly needs a strong United Nations, now more than ever.