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Jewish World Review May 10, 2001 / 17 Iyar, 5761

Michael Kelly

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Blind-Sided by 'Allies' -- Last week, a new chapter in American foreign policy began, and -- worryingly -- its dawn took the government of the United States quite by surprise. The tolling of the bell came in a closed room where the 53 members of the U.N. Economic and Social Council voted in secret balloting to expel the United States from its seats on both the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the U.N. International Narcotics Control Board.

Of these two bodies, the Human Rights Commission is much the more important, and America's expulsion is much the more shocking. The United States has held a seat on the commission since Eleanor Roosevelt created it in 1947. In last week's balloting, America received only 29 votes. Among those that beat out the United States for a seat were such guardians of human rights as Sudan, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Pakistan, Mexico and Croatia. Other members include Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Russia, Cuba and Vietnam.

The increasingly flat-footed Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed great and obviously sincere surprise over the defeat, declaring that the administration had received "43 solid written assurances" going into the vote. So, 14 nations that had committed themselves to vote for the United States reneged on their promises -- and the secretary of state never saw this coming. Powell sought to explain the fiasco away by saying that some allies had swapped their votes, as is common U.N. practice, because they thought the United States was secure in its commission seats. "They're as astonished as we are about what happened," said Powell, displaying a level of innocence abroad not seen since the young ladies of Henry James's time were wandering the Continent. It's touching, really. Sweet.

The first problem with Powell's theory is that the same group of nations that voted to kick the United States off the Human Rights Commission also voted, on the same day, to kick the American representative off the Narcotics Control Board. That is right, our friends -- stout fellows all -- simply miscalculated, to our entirely accidental and deeply regretted disadvantage. Twice. In a row.

The second problem was pointed out by The Post's Al Kamen this week. The United States competes with Europe for three regional seats in seeking reelection to the commission; the country that receives the fewest votes loses its seat. "Problem was that Washington," Kamen reported, "couldn't get one of three Euro countries to back down. So France, home to the glorious Vichy Regime, got 52 votes; Austria, grand masters of historical denial and boasting a foreign minister from neo-fascist Joerg Haider's party, got 41; Sweden, which conveniently sat out the Big One, got 32, beating the United States by three votes in the secret balloting."

What really happened is clear, no matter whether dawn ever breaks over yon secretary of state's head: America's traditional allies joined forces with America's traditional enemies to bash America a good and solid one. Last week's U.N. vote was the opening round of what clearly has been coming since George W. Bush was elected, a new period of official anti-Americanism. Partisan opportunists like Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts were quick to accept the European view: We are being punished -- quite properly, was Kerry's intimation -- for the world's belief that there is "a lack of a sense of honesty" in our government.

No. We are being punished for two reasons we have seen before. One, because Europe's ruling classes will never forgive us for constructing a world in which they no longer rule over anything except artisan cheeses. Two, because we elected a conservative president -- worse, a conservative president who seems intent on fulfilling his conservative promises. Add the two together and you get what we are getting now -- a repeat of the Reagan years, where Washington does what Washington wants and the elite of Europe howl and lament, and quite enjoy themselves.

That is all right. It is gratifying for our European friends to enjoy the full and unbridled expression of their contempt, and it is gratifying for us to know that our European friends are, as they have been for -- why, it's going on to a full century, isn't it? -- still clueless.

Still, it is not good for an administration to be unable to see so obvious a punch in the nose coming. (It would probably help to bother to nominate a U.N. ambassador.) And it is not good to have a secretary of state who wonders, even as he swabs the blood from his tie, how he could ever have been so careless as to get his nose in the way of his good friend's fist.

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Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

© 2001, Washington Post Co.