Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Uncle Sam Can't Fill U.N.'S Shoes

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Uncle Sam Can't Fill U.N.'S Shoes

Article excerpt

Uncle Sam Can't Fill U.N.'s Shoes

The veteran diplomat at the United Nations put it bluntly: "Many of the diplomats at the United Nations will not be happy if Madeleine Albright becomes the new U.S. Secretary of State. She is not well liked around here."

Richard H. Curtiss, a retired U.S. foreign service officer who has spent the past 12 years bringing understanding of the Mideast as editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, told a Chicago audience Dec. 29 that Albright's selection is "a disaster."

United Nations Plaza is certain to echo with unflattering nicknames reminiscent of the days when the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright, was derided by his critics as "Senator Half-bright." Fulbright's critics were incensed by the senator's thoughtful, scholarly, insightful challenge of U.S. foreign policies, especially American bias in favor of Israeli interests and against Arab rights, and presidential use of military force in Vietnam.

In sharp contrast, Albright's critics reflect unhappily on her behavior at the United Nations, where she spearheaded the needlessly uncivil assault against the re-election of Boutros Boutros-Ghali as secretary-general of the U.N.

With Albright carrying the veto flag, the United States forced the defeat of the highly popular Boutros-Ghali. All other members of the U.N. Security Council, including America's closest allies, voted to re-elect the hardworking and effective Egyptian diplomat. If the vote had gone to the U.N. General Assembly, the only votes against Boutros-Ghali would likely have been cast by the ambassadors from the United States and Israel.

The episode does not foreshadow a cordial relationship between the secretary of state designate and her diplomatic peers worldwide. It is a sobering hint that, under Albright, the United States will try to manage world affairs with little regard for the views and reactions of other states, even those of the North Atlantic community -- Great Britain and France, in particular -- with which it has had a close relationship for many years. It suggests new problems ahead for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), where Clinton has had recurring trouble over Bosnia policy.

The prospect of discord does not arise entirely from the Boutros-Ghali showdown. Wolf Fuhrig, a political scientist and educator in my hometown, Jacksonville, Illinois, uses words that are more muted but no less critical than those of editor Curtiss.

He warns of the "assertive multilateralism" that Albright has preached in the past four years from her ambassadorial rostrum. Fuhrig predicts that she "will undoubtedly represent the U.S. to the world with a more forceful agenda and a more strident tone" than predecessor Warren Christopher.

"Albright wants our allies to concede our right to lead the word."

He also predicts the unpopularity of Albright's assertive multilateralism. He writes: "She wants our allies to share the burdens of worldwide peacemaking and peacekeeping, but on the condition that they concede our right to lead the world, politically and militarily. In other words, Albright wants us to be the world's sheriff, while the other countries serve as our sheriff's deputies. A clever concept indeed. So far, it has only one flaw: no takers."

The United States should never be reluctant to go down to defeat, or even stand alone, in the United Nations provided the issue is principled. But if principle was involved in its opposition to Boutros-Ghali, it was never expressed.

The ever-mild-mannered Warren Christopher said it plainly and simply before the secretary-general withdrew his name from consideration: "The president of the United States decided sometime ago that he would oppose the re-election of Boutros-Ghali. …

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