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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He refers to the Arab-African bloc being a “new global reality.” This does indeed reflect the official UNESCO line and its day-to-day reality on the ground. But what concerns me is that he comes dangerously close to calling me a racist, the lowest of low blows, to which I do not take kindly. But in all due Christian charity, I forgive him. I understand that, in the absence of seriously contesting points I raise, and being unable to express himself with the sort of verbal elegance one might expect of a high UNESCO official representing what claims to be the world’s premier cultural organization, he has no choice but to fall back on rhetoric worthy of a guttersnipe.
He asks, oddly, whether I always have such an extreme reaction when a vote goes against me. While I am flattered that UNESCO might have been voting for or against me personally, the vote actually had nothing to do with me. It was against the member states that considered UNESCO was not the proper forum for deciding the question of Palestinian statehood. Besides the United States, these included such considerable nations as Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden, among others. Your argument about the vote is with them, Mr. Ford, not with me. I am only the messenger of the bad news.
When he refers to an ongoing reform of the “excesses” I describe, I can only accept and applaud Mr. Ford’s candid admission that 1) my article was indeed exhaustively researched, and 2) that these “excesses” need to be corrected. QED.
As to America’s winning the Cold War, I fail to see the connection between that and the fact that UNESCO has again become dysfunctional due to the political and, occasionally, economic corruption made clear in my article. More likely, such incoherence is simply another example of Mr. Ford’s regrettably angry reaction due, no doubt to a sensitive nerve having been touched. Perhaps he would like to cool down and make a positive contribution to a discussion about what can be done to reform that organization? Just a thought. But the present reality is that such reform, as in the 1980s and '90s, will probably be possible only as a result of the salutary shock of America’s complete withdrawal.
Now to British-born Mr. Cameron, a self-described inter-disciplinary scholar, facilitator and communicator who has worked both sides of the Atlantic to considerable advantage. Why he sticks his oar into this debate can only be surmised, since it is not the official reaction of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. However that may be, he too starts with bilious insults rather than rational discussion, casting aspersions on my intentions as an investigative journalist and unwittingly raising interesting questions about how much he really supports freedom of the press.
He finds fault with my characterization of the director general, Mrs. Irina Bokova, trying to score points by mentioning that the Bush administration supported her during the election. Well, of course. As my article points out, the U.S. and other Western member states certainly were not going to vote for the other candidate, the thuggish Farouk Hosny. No one doubts that Mrs. Bokova is shrewd — most survivors of Eastern European communist regimes are — or intelligent, etc. But the point is that she is unable to control that organization. Unable both because she lacks the forceful personality that requires, and also because UNESCO’s structure makes it virtually impossible for any DG to keep it on track. Its problems are systemic, not the result of any one personality.
He questions the relevance of my mentioning that one ambassador voting for Palestine entry was the daughter of a dictator condemned by the UN itself. Actually, it is entirely relevant to demonstrating 1) the unworthy atmosphere in the conference hall during what was supposed to be a vote with weighty consequences, and 2) that this is the sort of national delegate UNESCO attracts, a frivolous socialite who makes the Paris gossip papers photographed cavorting in night clubs in filmy dresses with plunging necklines. Is this the case with any other UN agency Mr. Cameron can cite?
He questions whether UNESCO’s past is relevant to its present condition. This section of the article puts UNESCO into the shameful context of its past. The point being, if it is necessary to spell this out for some, that there has long been a pattern of unacceptable behavior by this organization. Today’s situation is nothing new.
Mr. Cameron, oddly, states that indeed, UNESCO is badly managed and that this does not particularly shock him. The fact is that “recent controversies” are outrageous, unacceptable, and have stirred significant indignation among the national delegations to UNESCO. That Mr. Cameron is not shocked says more about him and his conception of what constitutes appropriate conduct by a UN agency.
As part of his vituperation, he accuses me of “tabloid journalism.” In response, I submit that we should distinguish between “tabloid” and investigative journalism that intends to make a useful contribution to the public discourse. My article is the latter. I am gratified to see that Mr. Cameron agrees with me that UNESCO is badly managed, and that this inevitably produces unacceptable results. But those results are more than merely “embarrassing.” They are wasteful, sometimes dangerous (cf. the outbreak of hostilities on the Thai-Cambodian border) and bring the organization into disrepute.
Mr. Cameron argues in favor of UNESCO’s “soft power,” a frequent European argument to excuse its absence of any other power. I don’t know much about the problematic substrates he refers to, but his argument would be considerably stronger if he could have cited just a few concrete, tangible instances in which America’s 19-year absence from UNESCO actually harmed its interests. Absent that, it is difficult to justify U.S. membership now, except for those whose jobs and income depend on it.
Finally, I can only be pleased that Mr. Cameron does after all understand that the article is intended to provoke discussion of the need for reform of UNESCO. The best way to concentrate minds on that reform is U.S. withdrawal, as was proved by the reforms it undertook following our withdrawal in 1984.
As to Ambassador David Killion’s contribution, I salute his sincere engagement in his task, as do many other ambassadors to UNESCO I interviewed. The problem is that he understandably — and, I am sure, sincerely — wants to portray these setbacks as victories. My research makes it necessary that I disagree, as my article demonstrates.
His contention that the defeat of Farouk Hosny as director general was a triumph is unconvincing. At best, this is barely snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. But, while the U.S. Mission’s role here was indeed exemplary, that is not the point, which is that Hosny’s very candidature and near victory demonstrates the systemic failure of the organization.
Ditto the embarrassing mess over World Philosophy Day in Iran. The question is not whether the U.S. and other member states were at the last moment able to change that incredibly stupid decision, but why on earth UNESCO decided to hold it in Iran in the first place. Systemic, self-perpetuating failure is the answer.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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H/T to National Review Online