After a summer in which the Bush administration handed over a disturbingly large chunk of its Middle East policy to the United Nations — whose Secretary-General Kofi Annan then raced off to chat up Hezbollah and shake hands with the tyrants of Damascus and Tehran — it was a relief to spend Monday in the company of some extremely eloquent people who think that if the UN is all we’ve got, it’s time to invent something else.
The occasion was an all-day Hudson Institute conference, held Sept. 11 in New York, on “The UN and Beyond: United Democratic Nations.” The lineup included such voices of sanity as Princeton historian Bernard Lewis, Commentary’s Norman Podhoretz, Senators Norm Coleman and Tom Coburn; and Ambassador John Bolton (who displayed stunning diplomatic talent in not quite answering a question about why on earth the State Department has been supporting Kofi Annan).
Israel’s Natan Sharansky was there — the former Soviet dissident, turned democracy advocate for the Middle East. So was former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has now moved to the U.S. Born in Somalia, Hirsi Ali is known for her 2004 film, “Submission,” about Islamic women, to which an Islamic extremist in Holland responded by murdering her film director, Theo van Gogh. She has turned her clear-eyed vision on the UN, which she described as “incapable” of stopping conflicts and “incompetent” at solving them.
There was also a pollster, Frank Luntz, who reported among other things that 51% of Americans want to kick France out of its veto-wielding seat on the UN Security Council.
Luntz also suggested that after the UN scandals and failures of recent years, “The American people are one more failure away from saying enough is enough.” (Intriguing, though I have my doubts — given the UN’s rich history of smothering scandal simply by launching a carefully controlled investigation that then doubles as a cover-up; or, if necessary, pursuing the kind of reform in which, for example, the despot-ridden Israel-fixated UN Human Rights Commission is replaced by the despot-ridden Israel-fixated Human Rights Council).
All in all, the Hudson meeting was a sort of massive preemptive antidote to the mind-bender about to hit Manhattan when the annual opening of the UN General Assembly brings the usual collection of high-level thugocrats to tie up traffic and clean out jewelry stores, all in the name of UN reform and world peace. For the moment, here’s a sample:
From Bernard Lewis:
“If Churchill had had to face the kind of obstruction and opposition that Bush now faces, Hitler would have won the war.”
And, on the people living under the despotisms of the Middle East:
“Either we free them, or they destroy us.”