WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Following unprecedented criticism of U.S. popular and governmental attitudes toward the United Nations, the world organization's second-ranking official ended his June 6 speech in New York with this rhetorical question: "Who will campaign in 2008 for a new multilateral national security?" Unbelievably but unmistakably, U.N. Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown was injecting himself into the next American presidential election.
"He was shamelessly pandering to partisan interests," Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, who has led congressional pressure for U.N. reform, told me. Malloch Brown's remarkable speech was delivered under the auspices of two left-of-center think tanks, one of them with particularly close ties to the Democratic Party. In Malloch Brown's audience were key officials of the Clinton administration, headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called on Secretary General Kofi Annan to "repudiate" his deputy and expressed hope privately that this rejection really would take place. Instead, Malloch Brown's boss defended his unprecedented intrusion into American politics, saying he agreed with him and referring to the resulting tumult as only a "minor storm." Indeed, U.N. sources said it was inconceivable that the secretary general did not have prior knowledge of Malloch Brown's intentions.
Coleman, who as Senate permanent investigations subcommittee chairman has focused on corruption at the United Nations, sees a desperate effort by Annan to seize the initiative before the scheduled reduction of U.S. spending at the end of June.
The venue chosen by the British civil servant was extraordinary: a conference held at the Essex House Hotel in midtown Manhattan as a joint venture by two think tanks. The Washington-based Center for American Progress is headed by John Podesta, Clinton White House chief of staff and a leading Bush-basher. The New York-based Century Foundation is run by Richard Leone, a longtime Democratic political operative. The conference (on "global leadership in the 21st century") was loaded with critics of Bush, headed by Albright and including Carol Browner, Theodore Sorensen, Lawrence Korb, Richard Holbrooke, Joschka Fischer and Morton Halperin (with Rep. James Leach of Iowa as a token Republican).
That might seem strange territory for a career international bureaucrat, but Malloch Brown was a man on a mission. He asserted that "much of the public discourse (about the United Nations) that reaches the U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors, such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News." He went on to cite "too much unchecked U.N.-bashing and stereotyping over too many years." His overriding message appeared to blame corruption at the United Nations on Americans, especially the Republican Party.
Malloch Brown's caricature of American public opinion was condemned by Coleman as part of the "blame America first game" and appealing to Democrats such as Sen. Christopher Dodd. Indeed, Dodd continued his vendetta against Bolton, which was instrumental in blocking the envoy's confirmation by the Senate.
Dodd, a principal Democratic spokesman on foreign policy, contended that the ambassador must have been reading another speech, because Malloch Brown's remarks "were constructive" and "not an attack on the United States." But The New York Times used different language, reporting on June 7 that the U.N. functionary the previous day "assailed" the world organization's largest financial contributor.
The attempt by the U.N. bureaucrats, echoed by Dodd, is to isolate Bolton from his State Department superiors. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Bolton to express her agreement with him. That was confirmed in the largely ignored State Department briefing June 8 by spokesman Sean McCormack. He said Rice had telephoned Annan June 7 to express her disappointment. Under Secretary Nicholas Burns, said McCormack, called Malloch Brown June 8 to complain that "a high-ranking U.N. official would single out a member country."
The Bush administration clearly does not regard the U.N. bureaucracy as merely acting in pique against the hard-nosed John Bolton. With Annan's term ending in little more than six months, funding is at risk amid complaints on Capitol Hill that the United Nations is still plagued by incompetence and corruption. The secretary general and his deputy are trying to exploit the partisan divide in American politics to discredit Bolton's insistence on reform -- a gamble fraught with peril.