If a doctor treated a breast cancer patient by amputating her big toe, he
would doubtlessly be kicked out of medicine. Medical quackery is punished
today. Sadly the same cannot necessarily be said of public policy
On Wednesday the US suffered a predictable diplomatic defeat. The UN General
Assembly approved the establishment of a new human rights council to replace
the existing human rights commission. The lopsided vote was similarly
preordained: 170 supported the move and four — the US, Palau, Israel and the
Marshall Islands — opposed it. The irony is that forming a new human rights
body to replace the current one was the US's idea.
Over the past several years, the UN Human Rights Commission has
distinguished itself for its subversion of human rights. With members like
Cuba, Sudan, Libya and China, the UNHRC acts as a shield for human rights
abusers while — in the finest UN tradition — its members name Israel the
single worst human rights abuser on the planet.
This corruption of the notion of human rights caused the Bush Administration
to seek the UNHRC's replacement by a new body that would make a clear
distinction between democracies that respect human rights and dictatorships
that abuse them. This initiative was one of the central planks of the US's
UN reform agenda.
Unfortunately, the Americans' noble plan had no chance of ever being
implemented. The same forces that caused the UNHRC to become a refuge for
tyrants were the ones responsible for establishing the new organization. Not
surprisingly, the new human rights body will enhance, rather than detract
from the ability of human rights abusers like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China and
Iran to exploit the "human rights" label as a means of condemning the US and
So by pushing its reform agenda, the US not only did not solve its problem
with the UN, it compounded it.
Also this week, the issue of Iran's nuclear program finally was brought
before the UN Security Council. The referral of the subject to the council
is a victory of sorts for American diplomacy. It only took the State
Department three years, (and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ascension to power), to
convince the Europeans that Iran's nuclear weapons program constitutes a
threat to global security.
Unfortunately, this stellar achievement will have no impact on the US's
ability to gain UN backing for its intention to prevent Iran from acquiring
nuclear weapons. Both Russia and China have made absolutely clear that they
will use their veto power on the Security Council to block any attempt to
take concrete action against Iran.
Against this backdrop, in an interview with Fox News on Monday, US
Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said that Iran presents "a real test" to
the council. Bolton explained, "If the UN Security Council can't deal with
the proliferation of nuclear weapons, can't deal with the greatest threat we
have with a country like Iran — that's one of the leading state sponsors of
terrorism — if the Security Council can't deal with that, you have a real
question of what it can deal with."
The attacks on the US on September 11, 2001 caused a sea change in the way
most Americans viewed the world. From the end of the Cold War until Sept.
11, most Americans believed that in the post-Cold War era, organizations
like the UN, which for 45 years had been marginalized by the superpower
rivalry, would be able to fulfill their charge of enabling and preserving
For most Americans the 1991 Gulf War was a preview of coming attractions:
Under the UN banner, the nations of the world would work together to contend
with threats to international peace and stability. The strength of this view
obscured a continuous flow of evidence from Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and the
Sudan, which exposed the UN's total incompetence to fulfill its perceived
For the Bush Administration, this fact only became apparent in late 2002.
When a year after the attacks on Washington and New York the US failed to
receive UN support for its policy of disarming Iraq, the administration made
reforming the UN a central goal of its foreign policy.
Just as they forced the US to contend with the incompetence of the UN, the
Sept. 11 attacks also forced America to recognize that it had to change its
policy towards the Arab and Islamic world. The attacks, which were committed
by citizens of Saudi Arabia and Egypt — America's closest allies in the Arab
world, showed that US supported Arab autocracies did not foster regional
stability and peace. Rather the administration understood that far from
restraining the forces of jihad, the US supported Arab autocracies inflame
Coming to grips with this state of affairs, the Bush administration
announced a radical departure from the decades old US Middle East strategy:
Rather than seek to enhance regional stability, the US would now cultivate
democracy because only liberal, democratic regimes could guarantee the
long-run defeat of the forces of jihad warring against the US and its
So the events of Sept. 11 made the US realize that its policies toward the
Arabs and the UN had to be changed because far from advancing US interests,
their old policies harmed them. Unfortunately, the new policies which
replaced the old failed policies were incapable of solving the US's problems
and so they too have failed.
It is not a lack of reform at the UN that stymies the US. It is the UN
itself. An overwhelming majority of UN member states believe that their
national interest is served by weakening and humiliating the US. Given this,
the US has no chance of ever getting its reforms passed or its policy
initiatives supported. By continuing to attempt to work within the UN rather
than effectively abandoning it and establishing new organizations capable of
contending with current threats, the US has entrapped itself, empowered its
rivals and diminished its chances of leading effective multilateral
initiatives against the forces of global jihad.
In its policies towards the Arab and Islamic world, the US has tied itself
into a similar bind. Although that after Sept. 11 the administration
recognized that the stability of the Egyptian, Saudi and Palestinian regimes
was based on their accommodation rather than combat of jihadist forces, the
steps the Bush administration took to contend with this situation so far
have only exacerbated it.
To confront the fact that its closest allies were actively supporting Al
Qaida, Hamas and other forces warring against the US and its allies, the
administration announced that supporting democracy was its central aim in
the Arab and Islamic world. This was a just and wise policy. Freedom does
indeed hold the promise of eventually becoming the antidote to jihad.
The problem is that the administration sought to implement this long term
policy in a manner that would satisfy the 24-hour news cycle. And so, it
conflated the conduct of open elections - which can be organized quickly —
with democracy, which takes years to cultivate. By pretending that elections
are democracy, the administration gave the impression that Western
liberalism is not a necessary precursor that guarantees open and free
elections will engender democracy.
Not surprisingly, in the absence of liberal values, the elections that have
recently taken place in Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq have
brought about the empowerment of jihadist forces. Rather than embracing
freedom, Arab voters are replacing one dictatorship with an even more
dangerous dictatorship. The perverse consequence of this policy has been
that the US, which so wishes to see democratic governments take root in the
Arab world, has become even more dependent on the old corrupt, non-Islamist
regimes that block any chance of liberal values ever being cultivated in
their societies. This is the US's present predicament in the PA, Egypt and
Washington's quandary is nearly identical to Israel's. In Israel, since the
outbreak of the Palestinian terror war at the end of 2000, the same
politicians who today make up the Kadima party came to understand that
contrary to the promise of the Oslo peace process, in this generation there
is no chance of achieving peace with the Palestinians. In so concluding the
politicians who now lead the country understood Israel's basic problem: The
Palestinians do not want a state, they want to destroy the Jewish state.
But like the Americans, Kadima's leaders — from Ariel Sharon and Shimon
Peres to Ehud Olmert, Shaul Mofaz and Ruhama Avraham — chose a policy that
bears little connection to the country's problem and so has no chance of
solving it. The politicians that now lead Kadima adopted a policy that says
that in the absence of a Palestinian public interested in peaceful
coexistence with Israel, Israel will create a Palestinian state without
achieving peace with the Palestinians. That is, they ignored that the
problem is war.
Since Kadima's policy prescription does not address the basic reality of
war, the implementation of that policy last summer in Gaza not only did not
advance Israel's position in the war, it weakened it. On the political
level, the Palestinians reasonably saw Israel's destruction of its own
communities in Gaza and the withdrawal of IDF forces from the area as a
victory for Hamas. And so they rewarded the jihadist group for their success
by electing them to lead the PA. On a military level, the lands Israel
vacated now serve as bases for Hamas and its friends from Iran, Hizbullah
and Al Qaida.
Yet, for all the similarities in their quandaries, the Americans are still
better off than the Israelis. The Bush administration's decision to
implement policies that have no chance of solving the problems the
administration itself identified after Sept. 11 has weakened public support
for the administration. Today, the president's support base has shrunk to
just over a third of the American public. Fearing defeat at the polls in the
elections this November, Bush's fellow Republicans in Congress are pushing
for tougher policies toward both the Palestinians and the Arab world in
In stark contrast, the fact that the implementation of Kadima's policy has
weakened Israel has not caused the public to abandon the party - to the
contrary. Perhaps owing to the disunity of the nationalist camp and its
refusal to rally around its leader; perhaps due to the massive mobilization
of the Israeli media and the Bush administration in support of Kadima, the
Israeli public is rewarding, not punishing Kadima for harming its security.
If the opinion polls are correct, then in a week and a half the Israeli
public will elect Kadima to form the next government. If this happens, then
Israel will compound the damage the withdrawal from Gaza wrought on the
country's security last summer as Kadima is pledged to continue implementing
its dangerous and failed policy in Judea and Samaria.
So while America's democratic system serves to check misguided policymaking
and forces leaders to correct their mistakes or be voted out of office,
Israel's dysfunctional democracy rewards policy quacks and punishes those
who point out that no matter how well one amputates a big toe, even the
finest toe amputation can never cure breast cancer.
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