This is a time for big ideas and I've got one: Let's scrap the United Nations. Wait, don't go away. I'm not dusting off the standard "U.S. out of the U.N.; U.N. out of the U.S." right-wing screed. But I am serious.
Let's start from the top. Whether you agree with President Bush or not, it's hard to dispute that in terms of foreign policy he is the most radically pro-democracy president of the 20th century.
Through both his walk and his talk, he's made it clear that spreading democracy is the central strategic imperative of U.S. foreign policy. In a series of speeches - in England, at the National Endowment for Democracy and the American Enterprise Institute - he has made it clear that courting corrupt and tyrannical regimes, a staple of Cold War thinking, is in the long run counterproductive because such regimes end up fostering the very threat - terrorism - America is now dedicated to thwarting.
This is less idealistic than it sounds. Sure, it's nice that other nations be free and prosperous. But the strategic imperative here isn't altruism, it's self-defense. Democratic, developed nations do not declare war on other democracies, and they do not churn out murderous terrorists.
This isn't a new idea nor a new argument, but for a president to take it to heart is a huge turning point in American history. Unfortunately, because so many in the media watch President Bush's speeches for the same reason they watch car races - just to see a crash - the enormity of this change has gone underreported.
Well, here's an idea that will get everyone's attention: Let's create a League of Democracies.
The strongest argument in favor of the United Nations is that, much like the Department of Motor Vehicles, there's no alternative to it. The U.N. has been declared "irrelevant" or "obsolete" more times than Betamax or eight-track tapes, and yet, like herpes, it just won't go away.
People want a goody-goody multinational organization that does nice things and solves bad problems. So, since the U.N. is the only outfit in that business, we keep dusting it off and patting it on the back after each of its innumerable and monumental failures.
One of the reasons it fails is that it's pretty much designed to. There is no vision, no set of shared values that truly unites the United Nations. You can't have a civil rights organization where Klansmen are welcomed as members; you can't have a softball team where half the players want to play basketball, and you can't have a global organization dedicated to the spread of human rights and democracy with nearly half the members representing barbaric, corrupt regimes.
And because the U.N. feels it must be "fair" to everybody, the worst abusers get to take turns determining policies on human rights and weapons proliferation. Right before the war, Iraq was set to co-chair the U.N. Commission on Disarmament - with Iran! And even now the U.N. Commission on Human Rights is chock-a-block with representatives of nations that treat their own citizens like piñatas.
My solution: Competition. Why not create a new multinational organization that has members who share common ideals and that isn't based on the antiquated assumptions of 50 years ago. In this League of Democracies, membership would be restricted to countries with democratic values and the rule of law. This wouldn't be the "West versus the rest" either. Japan, India, South Korea, South Africa and others could be members.
Right now the U.N. bureaucracy, led by Kofi Annan, wants its own army to do social work around the world. The problem is few oppressed people trust the "blue helmets" to be effective, and few Western nations are willing to tolerate their own troops fighting under Annan's flag.
At the same time NATO, which is already the military wing of the world's leading democracies, is desperately in search of a new mission, particularly at this moment when the European Union is pondering developing a separate military force. A League of Democracies could solve both problems. It could speak with moral authority, and it would have the military might to back it up.
Being a member of LD would have obvious advantages in terms of trade and mutual defense. And since it just so happens that the richest countries in the world tend to be the freest, we might be able to augment the sort of virtuous cycle that already causes nations like Turkey to institute reform so they can join the European Union.
Now, obviously this couldn't happen overnight. But it wouldn't need to. Just talking about it would shake up the United Nations and remind the world of that institution's shortcomings. But, if we actually did it, we might finally be able to get the U.N. out of the U.S. and the U.S. out of the U.N.