TCS Daily

The UN Party vs. The US Party?

By Arnold Kling - September 23, 2003 12:00 AM

"[The Bush Administration] has rejected a long list of multilaterally negotiated agreements: the comprehensive test ban, the Kyoto treaty, the Law of the Sea Treaty, the Biological Warfare Convention Protocol, the International Criminal Court, the Landmine convention; the list goes on and on. These treaties are not without flaws, but surely some could be ratified and others renegotiated. The answer is to work to rewrite them, and not to walk away from them."
Howard Dean

Recently, Dave Winer, one of the pioneers in the development of weblog software, posted a list of questions for Presidential candidates. This led me to try to develop my own set of questions designed to clarify differences of opinion. Some examples of what I started to come up with are:

  • On the subject of child care, should parents be entitled to it, or should they be responsible for it?

  • Do you think of taxes in terms of how they affect different classes of people or in terms of how they affect the incentives to work and save?

  • Should the government's promises to Baby Boomers in Social Security and Medicare be scaled up or scaled back?

However, the more I thought about it, the less likely it is that these questions will matter to me. I believe that the overriding issue for me in the next election is likely to have to do with international relations. It is likely that the candidates will differ on that issue, and those differences will determine my vote.

Who is Morally Obtuse?

The single question that I think will determine my vote in the 2004 Presidential election might be phrased as follows:

Do you believe that the rifts within the United Nations indicate moral obtuseness on the part of (a) the United States or (b) other members of the UN?

I would answer emphatically with (b). I fervently believe that it is the United States that holds the moral high ground. We absolutely must not treat the UN as if it holds the moral trump cards.

My sense is that the activist wing of the Democratic Party passionately believes the opposite. If the Democratic nominee reflects the views of the activists, then as far as I am concerned, it's game over. I cannot vote for anyone who sees the UN as morally superior. If you take the pro-UN position, then you can just sit down and relax -- you do not need to answer any of my other questions.

I will give my arguments for this point of view shortly. But I have to admit that it is an issue on which emotion is stronger than reason for me. My grandparents fled Europe to avoid being killed by Cossacks. Those relatives who remained in Europe were killed by Hitler. I am so damned grateful to be living in America that tears well up in my eyes just thinking about it.

Howard Dean writes,

"I have faith, and as I believe the American people have faith, that if we are wise enough and determined enough in our opposition to hate and our promotion of tolerance, in our opposition to aggression and our fidelity to law, we will have allies not only among governments but among people everywhere."

Reading this, I get the feeling that Dean thinks of the rest of mankind as a meeting of Quakers waiting for us to join them in silent devotion, followed by milk and cookies. Instead, all I can think about are the thugs, dictators, genocide perpetrators, suicide bombers, medieval theocrats, and other pathological types populating the world. As Walter Russell Mead put it, "Jacksonians are united in a social compact. Outside that compact is chaos and darkness."

Start with Iraq

Let us start with the war in Iraq. I believe that a person can hold a number of valid reasons for opposing the Iraq war. It is perfectly legitimate to say that President Bush failed to persuade you that the threat was sufficient. What I object to is the position that says that we should not have gone to war because he failed to persuade the UN. Yet that appears to be the position to which many anti-war Democrats are gravitating.

Today, a consumer of news media could be forgiven for thinking that the United Nations passed a completely different resolution than what actually was passed prior to the war. You might think that the decision of whether or not to go to war was conditional on whether a complete and accurate description of Iraqi programs of weapons of mass destruction was supplied by the United States and Great Britain.

In fact, the critical resolution required Iraq to provide a complete and accurate account. They failed to comply. Other members of the UN, in their moral wisdom, said, "Never mind."

If the UN had not passed its resolution, then the United States and Britain could have issued an ultimatum on their own. I think that going through the UN should have made it easier for Iraq to comply. However, Iraq chose not comply. And then the UN chose not to enforce.

If Colin Powell, President Bush, and Tony Blair deliberately spoke falsely, then that is a serious moral concern. However, my guess is that what is at issue are questions of interpretation of intelligence reports. In any case, regardless of what our officials were saying, Iraq could have prevented war by complying with the UN inspectors. Compliance would have forced the United States to stand down. Failure to comply left us with no choice.

Indeed, one could argue that all of the focus on the accuracy of U.S. and British intelligence is in fact an attempt by the pro-UN partisans to drive attention away from the fundamental moral failure of the UN to keep its word. Focusing on the accuracy of our intelligence and the way it was presented by our leaders is a way of changing the subject.


Has the UN demonstrated moral character on the topic of racism? It infamously declared that Zionism equals racism, rescinding the declaration fifteen years later. However, the delegates to the infamous Durban conference in 2001 attempted to resuscitate the canard, leading the United States to walk out of the conference.

To me, it seems that at the UN, "racism" is a label placed on the most civilized, tolerant countries by the most repressive and bigoted ones. As Thomas Sowell put it after the Durban fiasco, "Western civilization was the first civilization to regard slavery as morally wrong and it is the civilization with the most sense of guilt about it. To this very moment slavery continues in parts of Africa and the Islamic world."

The Environment

The October issue of The Atlantic Monthly contains an article by Jonathan Rauch on the environmental benefits of genetically-modified crops. He provides a fascinating account of one site which

"had not been ploughed for years, allowing the underground ecosystem to return... erosion and runoff had been reduced to practically nil... saved energy and reduced pollution. On top of all that, crop yields were better..."

What is the outlook for this environmentally-friendly farming? Rauch writes,

"For reasons having more to do with politics than with logic, the modern environmental movement was to a large extent founded on suspicion of markets and artificial substances...

Still, I hereby hazard a prediction. In ten years or less, most American environmentalists (European ones are more dogmatic) will regard genetic modification as one of their most powerful tools."

European environmentalists believe that the only moral approach is to retard American technology and lower our standard of living. The Kyoto protocol, which did not receive the support of a single United States Senator, is used by Democratic activists as a moral stick with which to beat the Bush Administration. However, I believe that most Americans would agree with me that we should be happy to use technology to better the environment while improving economic growth.

I think that most Americans would regard the question of the relationship between economic growth and the environment as an empirical one. That is, if it were demonstrated that economic growth helps the environment rather than hurts it, then we would be more than willing to accept such a relationship. In Europe, Bjorn Lomborg is excommunicated from the scientific community for daring to bring statistical evidence to bear on the issue.

The UN Party vs. the U.S. Party?

I think that both the Democratic and Republican candidates for President should view the differences between the United States and the UN as a disgrace to the latter. However, at this point I am very worried that the Democrats will fail to do so. I am no prognosticator, but in the early stages of the campaign it worries me that the 2004 election could turn out to be between the UN party and the U.S. party.

If the electorate perceives that the Democratic Presidential candidate would answer my question in favor of the UN, then my guess is that Karl Rove and other Republican election strategists will have an easy year. I think that only a narrow, insular minority of Americans would vote for the UN party.

I am not Karl Rove. I want to see a vibrant democracy in this country. I would like to see the differences between my libertarian persuasion and neoconservatism contested. I can imagine an election where I weigh the answers to a number of questions when I make my choice. I can see two parties competing for my vote.

But the UN party is not one of them.


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