US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, kicked up a political storm this week. On Tuesday, Ros-Lehtinen introduced the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act. If passed into law it would place stringent restrictions on US funding of the UN's budget.
The US currently funds 22 percent of the UN's general budget. That budget is passed by the General Assembly with no oversight by the US. America's 22% share of the budget is nonvoluntary, meaning the US may exert no influence over how its taxpayers' funds are spent.
If Ros-Lehtinen's act is passed into law, the UN will have two years to enact budgetary reforms that would render a minimum of 80% of its budget financing voluntary. If the UN does not make the required reforms, the US government will be enjoined to withhold 50% of its nonvoluntary UN budget allocations.
Beyond this overarching demand for UN budgetary reform, the act contains several specific actions that are directed against UN institutions that advance anti-American and anti-Israel agendas.
Ros-Lehtinen's act would defund the UN Human Rights Committee until such time as it repeals its permanent anti-Israel resolution, and prohibits countries that support terror and are under UN Security Council sanctions from serving as its members. It would also prohibit the US from serving as a member of the UNHRC until such reforms are enacted.
Ros-Lehtinen's bill defunds all UN activities related to the libelous Goldstone Report, and the anti-Semitic Durban process. It vastly curtails and conditions US funding of UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency permeated by members of terrorist organizations. UNRWA's facilities are routinely used to plan, execute and incite terrorism against Israel and to indoctrinate Palestinians to seek Israel's destruction.
The bill pays special attention to the Palestinian Authority's plan to have the UN Security Council and General Assembly vote in favor of Palestinian statehood later this month. The bill would cut off US funding to any UN agency or organization that upgrades the Palestinian mission to the UN in any way in the aftermath of a General Assembly vote in favor of such an upgrade in representation.
Ros-Lehtinen's bill, which has 57 co-sponsors, provides detailed explanations for how the targeted UN agencies and activities harm US interests. It notes that the US's membership since 2009 in the UN Human Rights Council has had no impact whatsoever on the UNHRC's anti-Israel and anti-American agenda. The US has been unable to temper in any way the UNHRC's actions and resolutions, including its decisions to form the Goldstone Commission and to endorse the findings of the Goldstone Report, and its continued support and organization of the anti-Semitic Durban conferences in which Israel is attacked and libeled as an illegitimate, racist state.
The bill notes that despite US efforts to extend oversight over UNRWA's hiring process, UNRWA continues to hire members of terrorist organizations. The bill provides a long list of UNRWA employees who have perpetrated terrorist attacks.
Ignoring its fact-based assessment of UN failings, the Obama administration has rejected the Ros-Lehtinen bill out of hand. Speaking to Politico, an administration source panned the bill, claiming, "This draft legislation is dated, tired and frankly unresponsive to the positive role being played by the UN."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland attacked the bill, saying it would "seriously undermine our international standing and dangerously weaken the UN as an instrument to advance US national security goals."
Since taking office, Barack Obama has taken concerted steps to place cooperation with the UN at the top of his foreign policy agenda. Through word and deed, Obama has shown that he believes that the US should minimize the extent to which it operates independently of the UN on the global stage.
Obama and his advisers give four arguments to support their view that the UN should effectively replace the US as the global leader. First, they say that the US cannot operate unilaterally on the global stage.
Second, they insinuate that operations undertaken outside the UN umbrella are somehow illegitimate.
To support this contention, they intimate that the reason the US was bogged down in Iraq following its 2003 invasion was because it did not receive specific Security Council permission to invade. In contrast, they point to the current Security Council-sanctioned military operation in Libya and the 1991 Security Council-sanctioned Persian Gulf War as success stories. And they attribute those missions' successes to their conduct under the UN aegis.
The third argument, which comes across clearly in Nuland's statement, is that to have credibility in global affairs, the US must not throw its weight around at the UN. If it objects too strenuously to the way things are done, or makes its support for the UN conditional on UN actions, then all the other UN members will be offended and refuse to cooperate with the US.
The final argument they make is reflected in the statement the unnamed administration source gave to Politico. Quite simply, in their view, trying to hold the UN accountable for its actions is old fashioned. In today's world, accountability is out. And anyone who doesn't understand that is simply out of touch, "dated, tired."
All of these arguments are false. In the first instance, it is simply untrue that the US is incapable of operating unilaterally. Aside from Saudi Arabia in 1991 and Kuwait in 2003, the US did not need its partners in Iraq. Of all the non-American participants in the US military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, only Britain made an impact on fighting. And frankly, the US would have secured Saudi, Kuwaiti and British cooperation without ever involving the UN.
Indeed, under both Democrat and Republican administrations, the US has frequently acted successfully outside the UN framework. In 1998 the Clinton administration could not get UN Security Council agreement to fight in Kosovo, and so it ignored the UN and fought alongside its NATO allies.
The US had 21 allied militaries fighting alongside its forces in Iraq, despite the fact that the operation was conducted outside the UN Security Council umbrella.
The US-initiated Proliferation Security Initiative founded in 2003 is arguably the US's most successful multilateral effort to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Operating completely outside the UN framework, the PSI has 98 members.
As for the two major US military operations that have been carried out in recent memory by force of UN Security Council resolutions, the jury is still out on both. Due to the Security Council's restrictions on the mission of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the US permitted Saddam Hussein to remain in power after removing his invasion forces from Kuwait.
In the 12 years between that war and the 2003 Iraq war, Saddam killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who - at US urging - tried to overthrow him. He exploited the Security Council sanctions to starve his people for propaganda purposes while he and his cronies enriched themselves through corrupt UN oil-for-food contracts.
Had Saddam been overthrown in 1991, his replacement by a pro-Western successor regime could have been enacted more smoothly and at far smaller cost to the US and the Iraqi people.
As for Libya, reports from Tripoli indicate that critics of the UN mission were correct. In overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi, the US has apparently enabled a situation in which any successor regime will likely be dominated by al-Qaida-aligned political and military forces allied with Iran.
The claim that the US will lose influence in international affairs if it is perceived as bossy by its fellow UN nation states is similarly groundless. The hard truth is that no one goes along with the UN simply because it is the UN. States are reasonably and consistently opportunistic in their cooperation with the UN. They support the UN when it supports their interests and they ignore the UN when it opposes their interests.
States do not oppose the US at the UN because they consider it bossy. They oppose the US at the UN because they believe it serves their national interests to oppose the US and its interests. It is due to clashing interests, not the comportment of US representatives, that the Obama administration has failed to exert any influence over the UNHRC's agenda despite its commitment to "engagement."
Clashing national interests are the reason the Obama administration has failed to secure Security Council support for anything approaching effective measures against Iran's nuclear weapons program.
The final administration argument - that it is déclassé to demand that the UN stop advancing the causes of America's enemies - is not simply peevish and insulting. It is indicative of the culture that motivates the administration to cling to its UN-centered agenda despite its obvious and repeated failure.
As the easy refutation of all the administration's arguments makes clear, the agenda is not a product of rational thought. It is the product of the groupthink that is endemic at the universities from whence Obama and his advisers have emerged. This groupthink is directed by unquestioned clichés that are passed off as sophisticated reasoning. These include such pearls of wisdom as "global governance," "Twitter revolution," "multilateralism" and "interdependence."
These clichés have become articles of faith that are impermeable to fact and reality. As a consequence, those who adhere to them will never acknowledge their failure to deliver on their utopian promises. Instead they attack anyone who points out their failure as "dated," and as "tired" old fogies who are too unsophisticated to understand the world.
We see this attitude at work in all aspects of Obama's foreign policy. For instance, Obama came into office with the view that the reason all efforts to date to successfully complete a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians failed because the Palestinians didn't trust the US to "deliver" Israel. To remedy this perceived problem, Obama has consistently sought to "put daylight" between the US and Israel. This policy has failed abysmally, as the PA's current UN statehood bid shows. And yet the administration continues to cling to it, because acknowledging its failure would involve renouncing a cliché.
So, too, the administration's policy of engaging Iran has brought the mullocracy to the brink of a nuclear arsenal, empowered it to violently repress pro-American democracy protesters, expand its influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, take over Lebanon, and make inroads in Egypt, Libya and beyond. And yet, despite all of this, the administration refuses to admit its policy is wrong and adopt a more effective one, because doing so would involve acknowledging that "engagement" is not the panacea it was cracked up to be.
Ros-Lehtinen's bill is expected to be blocked in the Democrat-controlled Senate before Obama has the opportunity to veto it. This is a pity not simply because the bill would advance US interests and the cause of freedom. It is a pity because it shows that the foreign policy debate in the US is now a fight between those who trust facts and those who trust clichés.