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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Durban III: The Monaco Factor

July 30th, 2011 - 3:08 pm

On Sept. 22, the United Nations will strike a blow for bigotry, by hosting Durban III — the third in what has become a series of UN gatherings dedicated in name to fighting racism, but devoted in practise to whipping up and institutionalizing anti-Semitism. The UN’s so-called “Durban process” singles out Israel for opprobrium. The UN’s first Durban conference, held in South Africa, in 2001, turned into such a mob attack on Israel that the U.S. delegation walked out. The UN’s second Durban “review” conference, held in Geneva, in 2009, had its preparatory committee chaired by Libya, and featured as a star speaker Iran’s Holocaust-denier-in-chief, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The U.S. boycotted that conference, and when Ahmadinejad began to speak, a parade of Western delegates walked out.

Undeterred, the UN General Assembly is now planning to hold Durban III at the UN’s headquarters in New York, timed to coincide with the annual pileup of heads of state who come every September to tie up midtown Manhattan traffic and speak at the UN General Assembly’s annual opening. Preparations are already well-advanced for providing the assembled worthies with a full day of opportunities to “commemorate” the bigotry of the original Durban conference, as Anne Bayefsky of EyeontheUN reports in her latest article on “U.N. Busy Deciding How to Slam Israel.

The good news — such as there is — is that six countries have now announced they will not attend Durban III: Canada, the U.S., Israel, the Netherlands, Italy, and the Czech Republic all want no part of this Durban grotesquerie. The bad news is that with only half a dozen countries pulling out to date, that leaves 187 of the UN’s 193 member states (South Sudan was just enrolled by the UN as the 193rd member) either unwilling to take a stand for decency, or eager to go ahead with yet another UN festival of anti-Semitism.

What is to be done? Well, sometimes leverage can be found in strange places. So here’s something to ponder. Preparations for Durban III are being “co-facilitated” by two countries, and an odd coupling it is: Cameroon and Monaco.

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With this week’s visit of North Korean envoy Kim Kye Gwan to New York, it’s deja vu all over again — with yet another U.S. administration hoping to wheedle Kim Jong Il into giving up his nuclear weapons program. The Washington Post has just published an AP story with the timeless headline, “US seeking signs that NKorea serious about giving up atomic weapons for better relations.”

The U.S. has sought such signs before — with the 1994 Agreed Framework, the 2007 denuclearization deal, and round after round of feelers and talks betwixt and between. While the U.S. has been doing all that sign-seeking, which has by now spanned more than 17 years and the administrations of three American presidents, Pyongyang has conducted two nuclear tests, unveiled a uranium enrichment program, and been working away — in cahoots with Iran and other paragons of proliferation — on missiles to deliver nuclear warheads.

The unpleasant but obvious reality is that Kim Jong Il has no intention of giving up nukes. Without them, how could he or his designated son and heir continue the nuclear shakedown racket that has been core for years now to the survival of North Korea’s totalitarian regime? Kim doesn’t mind sending his envoys back to the negotiating table every so often, to collect whatever  diplomatic loss leaders they can get. But a visit by Kim Kye Gwan to New York does not herald a sudden wish by Pyongyang to render up its nuclear program. It simply means that Kim is ready for a fresh intake of concessions and nuclear payoffs from the Free World.

If U.S. diplomats are serious about seeking signs that North Korea is serious about giving up its nuclear program, here are three signs they should be looking for:

1) Kim Jong Il and his heirs have fled North Korea, and are begging for asylum — perhaps as guests in exile of someone like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

2) Having kicked out Kim Jong Il and his heirs, North Koreans have emptied their prison camps, opened the country’s borders, and are asking for help in dismantling the country’s nuclear weapons program — the better to spend scarce resources not on nuclear weapons, missiles, and a swollen military; but on feeding, doctoring and rebuilding a society maimed, starved and stunted by more than six decades of dynastic rule by Kim Jong Il and his late father Kim Il Sung.

3) Corollary to signs #1 and #2 above: There will be no need to seek signs that North Korea is serious about giving up nukes. North Korea will make it unmistakably obvious.

Diplomats might reasonably object that none of these conditions currently apply, and we must deal with the world as it is.  To which one might reasonably respond that, in that case, it is time to stop endlessly chasing after fantasies of North Korean good faith that doesn’t exist, stop entertaining Kim Kye Gwan and his cohorts in New York, and put a lot more effort into creating conditions that will produce the above signs #1, #2, and #3.

While President Obama exhorts American taxpayers to tighten their belts, and the U.S. flirts with default, the United Nations is setting new records for spending American money. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget has produced its latest report, required by Congress, on U.S. contributions to the UN. For the 2010 fiscal year, the U.S. bankrolled the UN to the tune of $7.69 billion. As the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer notes, that’s a “staggering 21 percent increase over FY2009.”

It’s also more than double the $3.539 which U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, in testimony this April to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, implied was the rough amount of U.S. annual spending on the UN.

The rise in U.S. contributions reflects soaring UN budgets over the past decade, to which the U.S. has been the biggest contributor. The exact percentage of UN activity funded by the U.S. varies, depending on which part of the UN we’re talking about. But browsing the OMB report can give you a pretty good idea of how big a hunk of the UN tab is bankrolled by American taxpayers. Scroll down in the report to page 2, where you can discover that the U.S. in fiscal 2010 bankrolled 27.3% of all UN peacekeeping, 22% of the regular budget, 33.6% of the World Food Program, and 26.5% of the budget of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

What’s America getting for all this money? One seat, with one vote, in a 192-member General Assembly dominated by the largely anti-American preferences of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the G-77 plus China. One permanent seat on the Security Council, alongside veto-wielding China (which contributes a mere 3.189% of the UN’s regular budget) and Russia (which contributes 1.6%). And such privileges as a chance to rub elbows with the likes of Iran and Cuba on the governing board of the UN’s flagship agency, the UN Development Program (UNDP). Plus the endless circus act in which the UN promises transparency, better oversight and more efficient management — and delivers soaring budgets, opaque finances and bubbling scandals. All those American billions now pouring into the UN had their origins in work done by Americans, who earned that money, and then had it taxed away by government — and turned over to the UN. Given a choice, could those taxpayers perhaps find better uses for their dollars?

The U.S. administration has just invited a senior North Korean official, Kim Kye Gwan, to come to New York to talk about ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Or, as these things tend to play out in the meta-world of North Korean nuclear shakedowns, to talk about holding further talks to talk about ending North Korea’s nuclear program.

As it happens, we’ve been here before — with the same North Korean senior official, Kim Kye Gwan. In 2007, it was the Bush administration that invited Kim Kye-gwan to come talk nukes in New York. Kim spent a lively four hours dining and drinking at the Waldorf with the U.S. envoy of the hour, Chris Hill. That was followed by U.S. concessions and gifts to North Korea which included free food and fuel, arrangements to return to Kim Jong Il some $25 million in allegedly tainted North Korean funds frozen in Macau, and the removal of North Korea from the U.S. list of terror-sponsoring states. North Korea’s regime responded by stalling, stonewalling, cheating and ultimately walking away from the denuclearization deal; then conducted a second nuclear test in 2009 and in 2010 unveiled a uranium enrichment facility which it had previously denied.

The Obama administration, to its credit, has so far refrained from being suckered into another of these North Korean shakedown routines. But that could all be about to change, with Kim Kye Gwan preparing to enjoy another round of American hospitality in the Big Apple.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, “We are open to talks with North Korea, but we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table.” Too late. For North Korea, a United Nations-sanctioned erstwhile pariah of the so-called international community, it is already a reward to have America dignify Vice Foreign Minister and former nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan by inviting him for an encore in New York. And with the State Department saying America is looking for signs that North Korea is serious about returning to the negotiating table, a negotiation of sorts has already begun — in which America is already at a disadvantage. North Korea’s negotiators are masters at taking whatever they can get, and then welshing on whatever they have promised.

But if the State Department is determined to entertain Kim yet again in New York, there might be a way to redeem the situation. Upon Kim Kye Gwan’s arrival, U.S. officials ought to offer him five little words, and nothing more. Quite simply: “Would you like to defect?” It’s unlikely Kim would say yes. But if he does, that would be a lovely diplomatic coup, and an excellent start to the next round of “talks” with North Korea. And if he doesn’t, it’s still the kind of message that might provoke some useful cogitation among his colleagues back in the gloomy confines of Pyongyang. Haggling with the North Korean regime is a routine that by now fits the definition of insanity. Inviting Pyongyang’s envoys to come to New York, as long as they then stay there for good, might sound crazy. But  something in this routine needs to change. Why not give it a try?

Sometimes the most intriguing part of a United Nations press release is what’s left out. When an explosion ripped through a naval base on Cyprus last week, killing 12 people and wounding dozens more, the UN was quick to put out a press release informing the world in some detail that its top UN envoy for Cyprus, Lisa Buttenheim, “voiced sadness at the loss of life,” and the UN Mission on Cyprus was offering help.

What the press release neglected to mention was where these explosives came from. The operative word here, which appears no where in the UN press release, is Iran. These explosives, reportedly ignited by a brush fire, were confiscated by Cyprus in 2009 from a cargo ship, the Monchegorsk — then enroute from Iran to Syria. The attempted shipment was a violation of the UN’s own sanctions. It appears to be tragic accident that these explosives ended up killing people on Cyprus. But was it also an accident that the UN press release omitted any reminder that this tragedy had its origins in Iran’s pervasive pattern of sanctions-busting weapons traffic? Or was this one of those cases in which the UN preferred not to offend the sensitivities of member states — such as Syria and Iran? Here’s what the UN left out.

The Wisdom of Fouad Ajami and F.A. Hayek

July 9th, 2011 - 9:33 pm

Writing in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Hoover fellow Fouad Ajami has just brought us one of the wisest articles yet on the tumult in the Middle East: “The Road to Serfdom and the Arab Revolt.” As the headline suggests, Ajami starts by citing one of the great economists of the 20th century, F.A. Hayek, author of “The Road to Serfdom.” Hayek’s mighty contribution was to explain in brilliant and persuasive detail how economic and political liberty are inextricably intertwined. When the state controls economic choices, when government diktats, programs and subsidies curtail individual options and warp the information and latitude entailed in free pricing in free markets, the most profound cost — and it is vast — is a loss of the freedom necessary both to satisfy the soul and allow economies to thrive.

Ajami does an exquisite job of applying Hayek’s insights to explain the autocratic devil’s deals, wrecked economies and massive discontent in the Middle East. He writes: “The sad truth of Arab social and economic development is that the free-market reforms and economic liberalization that remade East Asia and Latin America bypassed the Arab world… True wisdom, and an end to their road to serfdom will only come when the Arab people make the connection between economic and political liberty.”

How right he is. And reading his article, I was struck – not for the first time– by how far from that wisdom the politics of America has strayed. In Washington, as the haggling goes on over debts and deficits of titanic dimensions, the focus is over and over on the financial cost. That cost is horrific, to be sure. But the real cost here involves the individual freedom that has been eaten away, traded away, politicked away, in exchange for government programs promising endless relief from the risks, costs, effort and responsibilities of adult life. What ails the American economy right now is no great mystery. The past decade brought an accelerating process of smothering the markets; of government proposing to fix government-generated problems, such as the housing market debacle, or the medical cost mess, with yet more government fixes — further curtailing the freedom of Americans to adapt, create and come up with their own wealth-generating decisions about trade-offs in the use of resources.

There are plenty of Americans who know this, or who sense where the real problem lies. Thus the Tea Party, the 2010 congressional turnover, the anger at government which I saw a few weeks ago when I dropped by a small-town Town Hall meeting. There are universal principles at work here. Fouad Ajami applies these principles beautifully in his diagnosis of the Arab Revolt. But his wisdom serves also as a reminder that Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” was a warning to the West. It bears remembering and re-reading and reapplying, now more than ever.

Beyond Strauss-Kahn, to the IMF and Iran

July 5th, 2011 - 12:52 am

When it comes to selling copy, it’s a good bet that sex trumps multilateral finance. That’s an axiom of human nature. It would be asking too much to expect that the media, or its customers, would be as fascinated by the in-house diplomacy of the International Monetary Fund as all concerned have been by the scandal surrounding the recently handcuffed and dethroned IMF managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Most eyes are now on the prosecutor’s cratering case, the curious past of the maid who alleged the sexual assault, and the media now analyzing its own coverage of these sordid events.

But in glancing through some of the documents related to l’affaire Strauss-Kahn, there’s a tangential item I’ve run across — which ought to raise big questions about the IMF itself, and deserves its own line of inquiry.

I came across it in the course of reading a 2007 letter from the IMF’s 24 member executive board, which governs the IMF’s daily doings. This letter spelled out for Strauss-Kahn the terms of his appointment as managing director of the institution, and was put out by the IMF in 2007 in a press release that didn’t exactly make headlines at the time. By IMF standards it has some reasonably juicy passages, laying out the benefits of the job. There is a section on the managing director’s annual salary, effectively tax-exempt, of $420,930, plus an allowance of $75,350 “to enable you to maintain, in the interests of the Fund, a scale of living appropriate to your position as Managing Director and to the Fund’s need for representation.” There’s a provision for increasing both these sums every year to keep up with any increase in Washington consumer prices. For business travel, there are per diem payments, plus reimbursement for “all hotel expenses,” as well as travel and hotel expenses for his spouse to attend IMF annual board meetings outside Washington, or accompany him on any official travel “where this is in the interest of the Fund.” The letter goes on to detail generous retirement provisions, and so forth. By the time you’re done reading it — especially after the recent news that when Strauss-Kahn encountered the now-famous immigrant maid this past May, he was staying in a New York hotel suite that cost $3,000 per night — you might well wonder if the IMF, like most bureaucracies of the United Nations “family” of institutions, hasn’t become a tad too generous in lavishing other people’s money on its senior staff.

But that’s not the most interesting part. What needs attention is that this letter to Strauss-Kahn from the IMF executive board was signed, as it happens, by someone named Abbas Mirakhor.

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