With the ink still not dry on my college diploma, I struck out for New York City in search of my first serious job. Working at the United Nations was at the top of my list. I carried with me a glowing letter of reference from Sen. Hubert Humphrey, for whom I had been a campaign volunteer, and in my naivete I was sure I would get an important desk job where my performance would soon catch the eye of the secretary-general.
I was told that I could be a tour guide on weekends, showing the tourists at Turtle Bay the basic attractions, which flags belonged to what nations, what a great organization the U.N. was, how it improved on the failed League of Nations. Saving the world on the weekends didn't quite fit my expectations, and I looked for "other opportunities" in Manhattan.
To the liberal Democrat I was then, having grown up in a devout New Deal family, the U.N. was the great hope for humanity. In our Utopian imagination, the U.N. would be the place where different countries with different kinds of governments would put factionalism aside, discard tribal loyalties and every day in every way Make Nice.
We soon watched innocence and idealism swamped by greed and cynicism, as the U.N. became a fat and inefficient bureaucracy, riven with strife and anger, a mouthpiece for the most corrupt and incompetent leaders in the world. As if in a satire by Evelyn Waugh, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights became a platform for speeches by representatives of nations with the worst record of human rights abuses.
Our ambassadors to the United Nations have often been forced into isolation, to defend the United States from attacks by nations whose only contribution to the debate is insignificance, envy and hypocrisy. The likes of Adlai Stevenson, Jeane Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan were powerfully eloquent defenders, and their rhetorical flourishes have recently found voice in John Bolton, whose recess appointment expires in January. President Bush has resubmitted the nomination, but despite what everyone says is his good job, he's unlikely even to get an up-or-down vote in the new, kinder, gentler Democratic Senate.
If the senators were to re-examine his record in the spirit of what we're told is the less partisan Democratic Congress, instead of preening with outdated cynicism, they could demonstrate that they mean what they say about eliminating cheap and thoughtless partisanship.
His eloquent arguments against the relentless attacks on Israel, while the U.N. ignores the nations that could use such attention to their brutality, demonstrates his ability -- and his willingness -- to display toughness with good sense. He shows how U.N. bias reveals a fundamental lack of seriousness about solving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Even Kofi Annan, no particular champion of the West, acknowledged the other day that the U.N.'s obsession with perceived human-rights abuses in Israel, to the exclusion of other abuses even in Darfur, encourages the public to see the U.N. as unfair. (Imagine.)
The report by the European-led U.N. Interim Force (UNIFIL) on what's happening in Lebanon exposes how the U.N. suffers destructive myopia. "UNIFIL was so obsessed with the Israeli reconnaissance flights above," writes Benny Avni in the New York Sun, "that it totally missed 720 Islamist fighters below who came from Somalia to join Hezbollah in its holy war."
Bias against the West in general and the United States and Israel in particular is not an isolated issue, but demonstrates clearly what's wrong at Turtle Bay. "Member states must choose," says John Bolton. "Do we desire a viable United Nations system, composed of agencies respected for their role in conflict resolution, human rights, economic development, education and culture, or will we continue to acquiesce to a narrow agenda of bias, stalemate and polemics?"
Many of Mr. Bolton's former critics concede now that he has "no horns." He's a lot better than that. He offers insight with a moderate tone, and works diligently with other countries in public and behind the scenes to focus on the serious problems, such as the nuclear-weapons programs in North Korea and Iran and the deepening human-rights catastrophe in Darfur.
Most of all, he has been forceful in arguing that if the U.N. wants to be taken seriously by serious people it must re-examine its mission: "Member states must demonstrate the will to break with the past and make the United Nations a relevant voice not only for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but for all the conflicts and issues worldwide that are equally in need of the U.N.'s attention." What a pity -- for the United States and for the United Nations -- if John Bolton himself isn't around to guide in confronting those challenges.