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August 29, 2011

Suicide attacks on U.N. -- in Abuja and in Washington

Jeffrey Laurenti

Preoccupied as they were over the weekend by the looming threat of Hurricane Irene, Americans were scarcely aware of the deadly suicide bomber attack that leveled the United Nations offices in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja on Friday.  A group with deepening ties to Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Islamist extremists’ hostility to the United Nations is well known.  Osama bin Laden famously reviled it as “nothing but a tool of crime” that “surrendered the land of Muslims [Palestine] to the Jews” and works hand-in-glove with the United States in places like Afghanistan.

But the United Nations is now at risk from an even more destructive assault – from conservative fundamentalists now in power in the U.S. Congress. 

After two years of the closest and most productive cooperation in decades at the U.N. between Washington and the rest of the international community, it is hard to understand why Republicans in the House of Representatives are determined to poison the well.

After all, the United Nations authorized limited international military action to stay the murderous hand of Moammar Qaddafi in Libya, a long-time conservative bête noire.  In Afghanistan the U.N. has successfully upheld the integrity of Afghan elections in the face of efforts at massive fraud. 

The Security Council adopted a remarkably even-handed resolution about the Israeli attack on last year’s Gaza flotilla.  U.N. peacekeepers enforced a handover of power to the legitimate winner of Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential election.

Yet, seemingly compulsively, House Republicans have reverted to snubbing the U.N., as if they still believe that showing contempt for international law and institutions proved itself a successful tool of American foreign policy in the days of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

Last month the House foreign affairs committee approved an authorization bill for America’s foreign relations for the coming fiscal year that sought to claw back the gains that the Obama administration has made for America at the United Nations.  The bill goes to the House floor next month.

On a series of party-line votes, Republican members voted to cut by nearly 10 percent the funding line for the U.S. share of U.N. peace operations, which are assessed on all U.N. member states based on relative share of the global economy.

They voted to bar payment of the U.S. share of peace operation expenses at the level that had been arduously negotiated in a protracted battle a decade ago, unilaterally reducing it to 25 percent.  (European Union payments total well beyond 40 percent.)      

They voted to reduce payment of U.S. dues owed to all international organizations by 25 percent because member states, including Washington, have increased the U.N. regular budget.

And, in a striking demonstration of feverish opposition to even acknowledging the reality of global warming, committee Republicans closed ranks to eliminate the U.S. share of the Global Climate Change Initiative.  With former Utah governor Jon Huntsman lamenting his party’s make-over into “the anti-science party,” Republican congressmen seem determined to show the world they have joined intellectual ranks with the Taliban in yet one more respect.

By insistently re-embracing the reflexive hostility toward the rest of the international community of the Bush-Cheney years, congressional conservatives seem determined to prove themselves the Bourbons of the new century, learning nothing and forgetting nothing. 

They have not wavered in their conviction, as Trita Parsi puts it this week, that the United States is “virtually omnipotent. All other actors are at best reacting to U.S. policy and thinking. There isn’t much distribution of power to speak of -- the United States holds (or should hold) most cards, and other states are left fighting for the bread crumbs that fall off Washington’s dinner table.”  That’s the mindset that drove the last administration, and that drives the conservatives’ foreign-affairs legislation now.

For the U.N., it can only get worse.  The chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Miami’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has been pushing her own pet legislation for years that would reduce the U.N. to a voluntary charity.  She will introduce her backward-looking "reform" bill next week.

But it is sobering that they should ever have bestowed the foreign affairs chairmanship on someone so rigidly opposed to international cooperation, known primarily as a determined foe of relaxing U.S. hostility to Cuba and of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord premised on land-for-peace.  To install her they had to bypass the far more senior, and relatively international-minded, Christopher Smith of New Jersey.  (Full disclosure: I had challenged Smith for his seat a quarter-century ago.)  To what end?

After the shock of two debilitating wars and a financial meltdown, Americans are right-sizing our foreign policy to our means, our values, and “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.”  Why do congressional Know-Nothings respond with suicide attacks?


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Elwin Sykes

Ironically, these conservatives are determined to destroy the US government and the country's positive role in world affairs--they are extremely unpatriotic, political loose-canons whose sights are trained in myopically by one or two simplistic catchall phrases.

Thanks, Jeff, for highlighting the analogy between extremists abroad and extremists at home.

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