Once again the "international community" is clamoring for the United Nations to fix things in the Middle East. It's reminiscent of an episode of "The Simpsons" in which Homer is in dire straits. In a panic, he yells heavenward, "I'm not normally a praying man, but if you're up there, please save me, Superman!" For some fetishists of multilateralism, the U.N. seems to fill this odd space in their brains once reserved for God, providence, the czar or even the Man of Steel - whatever force of good that can save civilization from evil. If religion is the opiate of the masses, then the United Nations is the opiate of the elites.
Global U.N. worship is based on an odd mix of delusion and realpolitik. To self-described internationalists, the U.N. is supposed to be a counterweight to America's "unipolar" dominance. In the wake of the U.S.-led victory in the Cold War, America greeted an ungrateful world eager to see the remaining superpower counterbalanced by, well, something. And the U.N. was the only viable candidate. As U.N. Undersecretary-General Shashi Tharoor wrote a few years ago, "American power" - not AIDS, genocide or global warming - "may well be the central issue in world politics today." Of course, there are others who pay lip service to idealistic U.N. globaloney but really they just like to use the place as a grand global rug under which any problem can be swept. If you hear a world leader start out by saying "something must be done," odds are he's going to finish that sentence by saying, "and the U.N. should do it."
Now, it would be one thing if the U.N. actually, you know, worked. But the problem is that the history of the U.N. is a history of unrelenting failure. Oh, not in immunizing kids and feeding starving people. The U.N. gets a passing grade there, though certainly not an A.
No, the failure comes in precisely the arena that supposedly justifies the U.N.'s existence: global peace and security. And that's where the delusion comes in. The folks at United Nations Plaza have proved themselves to be either well-intentioned incompetents or cagey, crapulent kleptocrats. The list of their biggest failures is spelled out in blood: Somalia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo (where peacekeepers reportedly raped the local girls), Iraq (where the U.N. bugged out after a bombing in 2003), Darfur and, in what was supposed to be the model for U.N. peacekeeping, East Timor, which, after seven years of exemplary U.N. stewardship, recently became the ideal location to film a reality-show version of "Mad Max."Second only to keeping the peace, the U.N. was founded to protect human rights. So what does it say that groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch long considered the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, or UNCHR, to be a protective shield for torturers and tyrants? In "The Future of the United Nations," an elegant sledgehammer of a book, Joshua Muravchik offers some useful tables showing that the world's worst offenders on human rights were more likely to be members of the UNCHR than to be condemned by it. Last March, after years of such embarrassment, the U.N. finally moved to abolish the commission, creating instead the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is supposed to do a better job at keeping the worst abusers at bay. Fingers crossed, everybody.
In fact, finger crossing seems to be the plan. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and others want the U.N. to impose a cease-fire on Hezbollah and Israel and have peacekeepers guard the Israel-Lebanon border. Of course, a U.N. "interim force" has been "monitoring" the border since 1978. (The Hezbollah and U.N. flags fly side by side there). In 2000, blue helmets videotaped Hezbollah kidnapping three Israeli soldiers (one of them an Israeli Arab). The video could have been useful in rescuing the soldiers. But, for eight months, the U.N. troops angrily denied even having the tape. When forced to admit they did, they refused to release it because that might compromise their "neutrality."
Still, despite this rich tapestry of failure and hypocrisy, the international community is once again behaving like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football, pushing for the U.N. to impose order, peace and tranquility. In the long term, such efforts have to fail - in a contest of wills between blue-helmeted Belgians and turbaned jihadists, don't bet on the boys in blue.
A premature U.N.-imposed cease-fire would be a disaster if it allows Hezbollah to escape annihilation. But the more interesting question is why people always think the U.N. is the answer before they hear the question.