President Bush’s speech to the United Nations last week was heralded by many of his usual critics (most notably the New York Times editorial page, which has recently assumed the role of the loyal opposition on all matters Iraq) as a step in the right direction.
“After a summer of discordant and belligerent rumblings about Iraq by various members of the administration,” the Times opined, “President Bush gave some welcome coherence to Washington’s policy yesterday in a strong and, for the most part, sensible speech to the United Nations.”
And it was rather sensible, pointing out, as it did, the considerable evidence regarding Baghdad’s human-rights violations and its continued role in “shelter[ing] and support[ing] terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel and Western governments.”
There were, significantly, no moments reminiscent of Adlai Stevenson’s photographs providing incontrovertible evidence of the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba — that is, no smoking gun directly linking Baghdad to the Sept. 11 attacks. Instead, there were later assurances both by President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell that more evidence would be forthcoming.
For a man who has exhibited a strong aversion to international agreements in the past, President Bush’s speech was also remarkable for its focus on U.N resolutions as the method for bringing about democratization in Iraq.
“The United States,” President Bush said, “helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective and respectful and successful. We want the resolutions of the world’s most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now, those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime.” He went on to list those resolutions and to suggest some new resolutions the United Nations might issue to enforce the subverted ones.
But before praising our president for his newfound willingness to work with the rest of the world, we should consider the implications of the path he has chosen — namely, U.N. resolutions. Even the most perfunctory examination of U.N. resolutions, particularly those regarding Israel, reveals the United States should be careful to call for their enforcement.
According to the U.N.’s website on the Arab/Israeli conflict (domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/test.htm!OpenPage), the U.N. Security Council has issued tens of thousands of resolutions on the matter, with the General Assembly issuing just as many. If these thousands of resolutions have anything in common, it is that they are, as a general rule, viscerally anti-Israel.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1322 provides a fairly representative example. Issued in October 2000, in the wake of the Palestinian uprising against Israel, the resolution wastes no time in condemning Israel not only for “provoking” the second intifada (with Ariel Sharon’s now-infamous visit to Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem) but also for responding to it.
The Security Council “condemns acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force against the Palestinians, resulting in injury and loss of human life” and “calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949.”
In case the diplomatic mumbo-jumbo leaves your head spinning, allow me to summarize: Israel, under relentless attack from ragtag groups of suicide bombers who foreswear any distinction between military and civilian targets, conducts sophisticated military operations to defend itself during which many Palestinian civilians are unintentionally and tragically killed. Immediately thereafter, Israel is condemned for its actions and admonished to abide by the Geneva Convention governing the protection of civilians.
This is the intractable lens through which the U.N. Security Council views the conflict — as big, bad Israel picking on poor, innocent Palestine — and its proceedings reflect this distorted perspective. In resolution after resolution, the U.N. Security Council has put reason aside to criticize Israel for failing to meet a standard to which no other country is, or reasonably should be, held.
My lack of faith in United Nations resolutions should not be understood as an implicit endorsement of the unilateralist inclinations of many in the Bush administration. The United States may be the greatest superpower in the history of the world, but that hardly grants us the right to flout international law (established, of course, by the United Nations) by unilaterally infringing on the sovereignty of another nation.
If, however, Iraq were proven to have infringed on any country’s sovereignty through the sponsorship of terrorism (and I don’t think anyone has yet proven that it does), then the international community would have every right to respond appropriately.
It seems hopeless, however, to place our hope for that international response in a body that has demonstrated time and time again its desire to demonize the victims of terrorism while championing its proponents.
–Chris McCall ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in German and political science.