Magazine article The Christian Century

A New Powell Doctrine

Magazine article The Christian Century

A New Powell Doctrine

Article excerpt

IN THE FILM THE INTERPRETER, Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) tells Secret Service agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) that she works as an interpreter at the United Nations because she prefers words to guns, even though she knows that words are "slower." Later in the film we see a photograph of a younger Silvia brandishing a gun; she had once been a rebel fighter in Africa.

This intelligent thriller by director Sydney Pollack is the first film ever made inside of the United Nations building. It offers a rare glimpse inside the structure that houses the General Assembly. By coincidence, the movie has arrived in theaters while the U.S. Senate is considering the nomination of former State Department official John Bolton as U.S. representative to the United Nations.

The film's release is a timely reminder of the importance of the UN, where world leaders--dictatorial as well as democratic--talk to one another in a multitude of languages that require interpreters like Silvia Broome. And they do so in an institution that would have to be created if it did not exist. A world without conversation between enemies, both current and potential, is a world courting disaster.

Yet the UN has been under steady fire from the Bush administration. Its choice of Bolton as the U.S. delegate to the UN has been viewed by UN supporters as an expression of disdain. Bolton has gone on record with several verbal attacks on the institution. Democratic senator Joe Biden told Bolton that he did not know why Bolton would even want the job--an ironic observation since it is clear that Bolton was named precisely because he is a fierce critic of the UN.

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have opposed Bolton's nomination but have lacked the votes to block it. But three Republican senators have expressed reservations about the nomination, leading to postponement of the final vote. These reservations are inspired, in part, by conversations between former secretary of state Colin Powell and two Republican senators, Lincoln Chafee of Bhode Island and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. According to the New York Times's Douglas Jehl, Powell "expressed concern about Mr. Bolton's temperament, credibility and treatment of intelligence analysts."

Powell's cautious intrusion into the hearings might not derail the Bolton nomination, but it has allowed Powell to signal his belief that the UN General Assembly deserves greater respect and support than it has been receiving from the world's remaining superpower. As a former army general, Powell has often spoken of his preference for words over military force. …

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