In defense of the UN’s “rogue agency” — letters from the U.S. ambassador, and others, with a reply by Joseph A. Harriss.
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But back to the headline, adorning the cover story of February’s Spectator: “The United Nations’ Rogue Agency.” This is a seriously cheap headline, not least in light of the fact that no attempt is made in the body of the article to assess UNESCO alongside other agencies in the UN system. “Rogue” means the others are going one way, this one is going another. In fact, it is supremely inappropriate to single out UNESCO in this way in light of the Palestine question, as if UNESCO’s leadership had courted Palestine or — unlike other UN agencies — were specially disposed to be sympathetic to the cause of Palestinian membership in the UN system. Whatever the merits of the legislation passed by Congress in 1990 and after that required defunding of UN agencies that accepted Palestine into membership, in the case of most UN agencies membership is by direct election of all member states. That is, it is the same member states who vote in each of the agencies. In effect, the voting group is the UN General Assembly, who as we know have passed many resolutions sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. So whichever agency Palestine decided to join, it was likely to get the same response. The response is from the member states of the international community. It has nothing specifically to do with UNESCO at all. UNESCO was the chosen venue for the first attempt. It is open to Palestine to approach more than a dozen other agencies, where the same states will be voting and likely cast exactly the same vote. To single out UNESCO as “rogue” on the basis of Palestinian membership is in fact, in the absence of evidence that UNESCO’s DG and her team actively sought a Palestinian membership request, either a category mistake or simply an exercise in mendacity.
There is a great deal more to be said. The two Permanent Representatives who have served as our ambassadors to UNESCO since we rejoined — Louise Oliver under the Bush administration, and now David Killion — are amongst the most excellent of our public servants, and have pursued essentially nonpartisan foreign policy in Paris with acknowledged éclat. That was no better demonstrated than when immediately after we defunded, the United States was re-elected to the Executive Board with an increased majority. The many programs that very specifically advance our interests, such as teaching literacy to police in Afghanistan — which Harriss is forced to acknowledge — simply illustrate the immeasurable value of our engaging in this multilateral institution.
So far from presaging a pull-out, the defunding forced
upon the United States and UNESCO by what now appears to have been
naïve politics back in 1990 and a smart asymmetric move by
Palestine needs to be reversed. If with that reversal and the
discussion it has engendered comes a better grasp of the value of
multilateral engagement and the special value of this institution,
so much the better. Perhaps to that end Joseph Harriss’ rogue
article may have served a purpose.
— Nigel M. de S. Cameron
Chair, Social and Human Sciences Committee
U.S. National Commission for UNESCO
If only UNESCO could embalm the brain of Joseph A. Harriss. It contains a perfect example of cold war mentality from around the time of the Cuban missile crisis — definitely a cultural artifact worth preserving. Harriss is so busy looking for communists and defending U.S. global hegemony that he can’t see the modern UNESCO. We are the UN agency that:
• Teaches police in Afghanistan how to read and write;
• Leads global research in Tsunami warning systems;
• Ensures that the Holocaust is never forgotten; and
• Spearheads Education for All, the movement for universal schooling.
And yes, we’re the first UN agency to admit Palestine. What Harriss misses is that — put to the vote — every UN agency would make the same decision, except for the General Assembly in New York where the U.S. has a veto through the Security Council. At UNESCO, he blames this new global reality on the “aggressive Arab-African regional bloc” and comes dangerously close to racism when he talks of “grinning, gibbering, gesticulating inmates” “taking over the asylum.” Does he always have such an extreme reaction when a vote goes against him? I’m surprised The American Spectator agreed to print such bigoted, undemocratic cant.
But never mind. No one’s perfect, certainly not UNESCO. We’re in the middle of reforming our business processes and management systems so that the excesses Harriss so exhaustively describes can never happen again.
Actually, there’s a lot that someone with his perspective should be cheerful about. The old UNESCO tried to stifle media through the New World Information and Communication Order. The new UNESCO defends media freedom by protesting every time a journalist is killed in the line of duty. Isn’t that what was supposed to happen when America won the cold war?
— Neil Ford
Director, Division of Public Information
Joseph A. Harriss
I was delighted when the editors told me they had received letters reacting to my article on UNESCO. I expected that they would be the sort of serious, constructive discussion of the organization’s problems and what to do about them that the article was intended to stimulate. They did, after all, come from Mr. Neil Ford, UNESCO’s director of public information, and Mr. Nigel Cameron, a member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, and Ambassador David Killion of the U.S. Mission to UNESCO. Imagine then my disappointment on discovering that their letters, except for Ambassador Killion’s, contained only spiteful vociferation and personal attacks.
First, to answer Mr. Ford: After a brief flash of wit concerning the desirability of embalming my brain, he launches into a snide tirade, beginning with preposterously trying to paint me as a commie hunter of the old Cold War school. He also says I cannot see the modern UNESCO. On the contrary, his reaction indicates that I have seen today’s UNESCO only too well. More to the point, a close reading of the article will show that there is no “looking for communists” or “defending U.S. global hegemony,” though clearly Mr. Ford, in keeping with the prevailing UNESCO attitude toward America, certainly does not favor the latter. It is distressing that the UNESCO director of public information, surely an intelligent, articulate gentleman as one would expect, resorts to a cheap ad hominem attack. Indeed, his whole missive is devoted to assailing the author, rather than responding concretely to the facts and issues mentioned in the article. He might usefully even have pointed out errors, if any.
His statement that every UN agency would also have admitted Palestine is a spectacularly unsupported allegation. If he has any, Mr. Ford would do better to give us his empirical evidence for that assertion. That would have gone far to refute, if possible, the point that Palestine chose UNESCO, not some other agency, because they knew it was the weak link in the UN system.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online