It’s not only at the nuclear talks that Iran is goose-stepping right over those polite U.S. diplomats to grab all it can get. At the United Nations, Iran has just won a seat on the governing board of — what else? — UN Women.
Yes, you read that right. On Friday, at the UN, Iran won a three-year term, starting Jan. 1, 2016, on the board of UN Women — the UN’s self-described agency “for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.” Never mind that the UN’s own special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, reported last month that under President Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s oppression of women is worse than ever.
How did this happen? In procedural terms, it was the latest product of the toxic UN system in which seats on governing boards are allocated to geographic blocs. Each bloc gets a quota of seats to fill, and puts forward a slate of candidates. Iran belongs to the Asia-Pacific States, which in this case avoided such awkward democratic customs as competition by putting forward five candidates for five seats: Samoa, United Arab Emirates, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Iran.
The U.S. made a feeble gesture to do something about this, calling for a vote on this slate, instead of the usual “election” by acclamation. Under rules of the 54-member Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which elects the governing board of UN Women, this translated into a secret ballot on which voting members had to write in the names of the countries they favored. Iran got the lowest number of votes: 36 (compared to 53 each for Samoa and the UAE, 52 for Turkmenistan and 49 for Pakistan). But it was still a classic UN no-contest election. Iran won a seat. Let’s run those numbers again. Yes, among the 54 members of ECOSOC — which claims broad responsibility for some 70% of the UN’s resources, some 22% of which are bankrolled by U.S. tax dollars — there are 36 members who wrote in “Iran” as one of their picks to guide UN policy toward women.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power described herself as “deeply disappointed” by the result. That’s a slight variation on the wording she used last year, when Iran won a slew of seats on various UN bodies, including reelection to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. Last year Power said the U.S. was “very disappointed.”
Among those who should be even more deeply disappointed are American citizens, whose money not only pays for a big share of the UN, but who also maintain in high style a massive U.S. Mission to the UN in New York, appended to a huge State Department that operates as part of a lavishly funded gargantuan federal government — which right now appears unable to achieve even the modest goal of keeping Iran’s misogynist regime off the governing board of the UN program set up with great fanfare in 2010 as the UN’s flagship for fostering decent treatment of women.
Was there more that Ambassador Power, the U.S. Mission, the U.S. State Department, or the entire U.S. administration could have done? You bet. For starters, where were the U.S. public howls of outrage while the Asia-Pacific States were preparing that Orwellian non-contested slate of candidates, with Iran on the list? Where was the diplomatic campaign to head this off? It is possible for the U.S. to have a much greater say — if there is leadership, preferably from the very top, that directs America’s ample diplomatic networks, with all their many resources, to bestir themselves to let other countries know that such depravities as ushering Iran onto the board of the UN agency for Women will not go down well. Instead, the entire proceeding slipped by so quietly that it might have been a vote on what color to paint the ladies’ lounge near the UN’s diplomatic dining room.
As it is, the U.S. call for a vote looks less like a serious protest than a figleaf for allowing yet another triumph for Tehran, while failing to do an effective job of defending women’s rights — or for that matter, human rights — at the world’s leading multilateral body. If, as President Obama has said, the UN is a central vehicle of U.S. foreign policy, it looks ever more as if Iran and its pals are in the cockpit, while the U.S. pays for the jet fuel and goes along for the ride.
The obvious question is whether the U.S. administration, in its zeal to close a nuclear deal with Iran, deliberately downplayed its protest over Iran’s candidacy for a board seat on UN Women. It would hardly be the first concession to Iran, and compared to the emerging nuclear bargain that would grant Iran the “right” to enrich uranium and let Tehran keep its nuclear infrastructure, it would hardly be the worst. But as symbols go, this latest move at the UN is grotesque. And at the UN, bathed in U.S. billions every year, and endowed with immunities, a world stage, and a self-interested bureaucracy ginning up endless programs and prescriptions, to have Iran in a governing seat is worse than merely symbolic.
It should also serve as a warning about the Iran nuclear deal now taking shape. If, as looks likely, the inspections and enforcement are left to the UN, that means we would be putting our trust in the gang that just elected Iran to help guide the world’s treatment of women. Go figure.