History is being made with Egypt’s Lotus Revolution, as President Obama reminded us on Friday, intoning: “This is one of those moments. This is one of those times.” Big things are happening in the Middle East, freighted with opportunity and fraught with danger. So you might expect that Obama’s ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, would be working overtime, manning the ramparts of the UN’s multilateral councils, mapping out strategies and maneuvering among U.S. friends and foes to enhance the chances that Egypt’s uprising will become a portal to democracy, rather than a replay of Iran.
Guess again. While Egypt was making history this week, Rice was visiting the U.S. West Coast, on a mission to deliver a Friday evening speech to the World Affairs Council in Portland, Oregon, on “Why America Needs the United Nations.” Earlier, she stopped by Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, Ustreaming a “conversation” she kicked off by telling her audience: “A good part of my job is explaining to the American people why it is that the United Nations in the 21st century serves America’s interests.”
Funny, but I thought the entire job of America’s ambassador to the UN was — as the job title suggests– to represent America to the UN. Not to represent the UN to Americans.
If the UN is really so terribly useful and important for America, then isn’t this critical juncture in the Middle East exactly the kind of moment in which America’s envoy should be availing herself flat out of the pedals and levers and diplomatic channels the UN is supposed to provide? And if the UN really gets such great results for America, then shouldn’t those results speak for themselves?
The UN already has plenty of help advertising itself. The UN secretariat has a public information department (some might call it a public relations department) with a yearly budget of close to $100 million – and that’s just for the secretariat. Many of the agencies have their own PR offices, PR staff and PR budgets — the biggest share of all this funded by… you guessed it… American taxpayers. Orbiting around the UN, or in some cases entwined with it, and with each other, are a whole raft of outfits devoted to further “strengthening” the image of the UN — notably Ted Turner’s UN Foundation, and the United Nations Association of the United States of America, or UNA-USA. Why is the U.S. ambassador joining this bandwagon at all?