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Today, three individuals will address the opening of the 61st annual session of the UN General Assembly: Secretary-General Kofi Annan, US President George W. Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. For the city that marked last week's fifth anniversary of 9/11 with continuing trauma, as well as resolve, the UN spectacle is profoundly disturbing.
Outside the insulated halls of Turtle Bay there is a war going on. It is a war which threatens the welfare of decent people the world over, and a war we cannot afford to lose.
We are therefore obliged to ask and answer the question: Is the UN a help or a hindrance to our success on the battlefield of ideas and the very real trenches that lie beyond?
To win this war, we must be certain that those who call themselves our generals have the skills, the fortitude and the integrity to deserve our trust and our support, our toil and our blood. And if not, we owe it to ourselves and to our children's children to ensure that there are alternatives to this institution's infirmity and that we will not react with indifference, despair and defeat.
LET US consider, therefore, the UN's contribution to the war effort.
Earlier this month, the UN gave the world its answer to 9/11. The General Assembly adopted its first-ever "Global Counterterrorism Strategy." The title is grand. The substance is as follows:
The UN resolved to implement General Assembly resolutions on the elimination of international terrorism - including one from 1991 which draws a distinction between terrorism on the one hand and the "legitimacy of the struggle of national liberation movements" on the other.
The UN gave up on a definition of terrorism, labeling the issue just "outstanding."
The "strategy" deliberately excluded a call to sanction all states that harbor and assist terrorists.
It omitted any reference to the state sponsorship of terrorism.
And it began, not with the defeat of terrorists, but with "measures to address conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism" - which it describes as "prevent[ing] the defamation of religions, religious values, beliefs and cultures," "eradicate[ing] poverty" and reducing youth unemployment.
What does such a strategy do for winning the war? It throws sand in the eyes of the troops on the front lines and renders the goalposts a mirage.
SHORTLY AFTER 9/11 the UN created a new body to take the lead on responding to terrorist threats - the Security Council's Counterterrorism Committee. To this day, the CTC has never named a single terrorist, terrorist organization or state sponsor of terrorism. What does such a record do for the war effort? It leaves the stewardship of the war against terrorism in the hands of an agent that cannot define it.
The UN's top human rights body for six decades, the Commission on Human Rights, was charged with identifying and responding to human rights abuse. During that time, 30 percent of all its resolutions condemning a specific state for human rights violations were directed at Israel, while not one resolution was adopted condemning states like China, Syria, or Zimbabwe. In recent years, Libya served as its chair.
In the name of enhanced credibility, the commission was replaced this past spring by a Human Rights Council. Its members include Cuba, China and Saudi Arabia. Since June, the council has adopted three resolutions and held two special sessions critical of human rights violations in specific states. Now 100% of them are on Israel.
In the meantime, thousands die in killing fields and deserts and torture chambers around the world. What does this UN game plan do for winning the war? It defines the enemy as the Jew.
UN SECRETARY-General Kofi Annan recently decided to go to Iran and shake hands with President Ahmadinejad. The message Annan delivered, in his own words, was that "the international community should not isolate Iran." Ahmadinejad has embraced genocide, called for the eradication of a UN member state, denied the truth of the Holocaust even though its ashes form the cornerstone of the UN itself, and broken his treaty obligations to end the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Yet the secretary-general still believes the president of Iran does not deserve isolation.
What does such a message do for winning the war? It tells us to appease, apologize and run away.
THE UN SYSTEM produces hundreds of reports, resolutions, letters, journals and circulars critical of human rights abuse by particular states. It multiplies their impact through the world's largest multilingual human rights Internet database, a constant stream of press releases, and the sponsorship of meetings year round across the globe.
Of the top 10 countries of human rights concern to the UN in 2005, Israel was first and the US was 10th. Iran was 18th.
The human rights actions statistics for 2006 are even starker. So far Israel is first and the US is third - of all 192 states on Earth. Human rights are the watchword of our time; they have become the rallying cry both for the forces of good and of evil.
What does the UN campaign to demonize the US and Israel do for winning the war? It provides sustenance for our foes and sows confusion among our friends.
TIME AND AGAIN the UN has stood opposed to US attempts to ensure a decent world order, for itself and for others. America has tried to galvanize legal and political forces by calling the millions dead, displaced and dying in Sudan "genocide." But the UN reported last year that events in Darfur didn't meet its criteria for genocide.
America has called for immediate sanctions to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the UN Security Council called only for another report. The International Atomic Energy Agency said that it "remains unable toâ€¦ verify the correctness and completeness of Iran's declarations with a view to confirming the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program." And we're meant to wait.
America has named Hizbullah a terrorist organization. But the UN refuses to do so - notwithstanding the 3,900 missiles directed at Israeli civilians this summer.
On the contrary, said Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch-Brown: "It is not helpful to couch this [Lebanon] war in the language of international terrorism" - this because Hizbullah is "completely separate and different from al-Qaida."
America has worked arduously to support the nascent democracy in Iraq. But the UN has dragged its feet responding to appeals to train Iraqi judges and prosecutors.
America has sought repeatedly to put Chinese violations of the civil rights of a billion people on the UN agenda. But all such attempts have been defeated by maneuvers that take draft resolutions off the table before they can even be put to a vote.
America has called for the Security Council to take action on the dire situation in Burma or Myanmar. But the subject has not even made it to the council's agenda.
America attempted to introduce minimal qualifications for membership on the Human Rights Council relating to actual human rights performance. The General Assembly rejected the idea out of hand.
WHY HAVE America's best efforts to enlist the UN in the battle against intolerance and extremism failed? Who are these opponents, wrapped in the UN flag, who inculcate the view that American unilateralism, non-cooperation and support for democratic ally Israel, is the root cause of the world's ills?
They are UN staffers like the secretary-general and his deputy, who claim they are hapless functionaries operating at the mercy of member states - notwithstanding self-motivated trips to Iran, handshakes with Hizbullah, "doing business" with Saddam Hussein and blaming Middle American ignorance for the credibility gap. They are the 45 "not free" nations - to use Freedom House labels - who pass judgment on others in the General Assembly.
These are the states sponsors of terrorism. The ones who don't let women vote or drive or kill them in the name of "honor." The ones who raise their children to die while murdering as many others of a different faith as possible. The ones who shoot from behind mothers and babies. The ones who claim that authoring a cartoon, a movie or a book can justify a death sentence.
They are also the 58 "partly-free" countries. Some of these are cronies, others are just cowards. Some are like-minded with their more notorious neighbors, others are very dependent.
Together, these nations represent the majority of the 132 developing states and the majority of 192 UN members. They are unified not by a desire to democratize, or even to develop, since many are quite content with kingdoms and with servitude in their own backyards. They are a team because they are adroit at UN politics, and they have learned that the cartel is good for business. This holds true particularly for the largest single bloc among them - the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.
The one loose-knit collective that has miserably failed at coordination within the UN is the Community of Democracies - the pretense of a democratic caucus that counts Nepal, Qatar and Russia among its members.
The remaining 89 "free" countries are not only outnumbered at the UN, they are pitted against each other. The plethora of non-democratic regimes in the UN framework creates an incentive for a second-string player like France to take on the role of powerbroker and middleman. The possibility of using their influence with dictatorships to offset American power is too tempting for many EU nations. The halfway point between the US and the state sponsors of terrorism, however, is not where any democracy ought to be.
The UN system, though, does not merely divide and conquer democracies - it makes the loser pay for the experience. Just eight developed democracies contribute three-quarters of the entire UN regular budget.
IT IS, therefore, no mystery why the volleys of the UN propaganda machine are firing not at our enemies but at us. The mystery is why democracies, and the US in particular, permit the degradation of their resources and their resolve to continue.
Americans helped set reform goals at a UN summit a year ago. By the end of 2005, when progress was negligible, the US administration tried using financial leverage with a cut-off date for change by June 2006. June came and went. They surrendered and paid.
So here we are today: no definition of "terrorist," no comprehensive terrorism treaty in sight, no sanctions on Iran, continuing genocide, not one of the 9,000 UN mandates terminated and the vast majority subject to no prospect of review; an investigative oversight authority whose budget remains in the control of the people and bodies it is supposed to investigate, a human rights council hijacked by Islamic states and subject to less Western influence over the UN's human rights agenda than ever before, an Ethics Board that organizes seminars while keeping whistleblower protection at a minimum, and management reform plans to permit hiring, firing and outsourcing stalled completely.
So democracies, and especially President George W. Bush, have a choice - a choice that is made all the more pressing by the alternatives to victory.
We can make speeches spinning wins out of losses and claiming success for Western policies at the UN. We can announce that we are working hard for reform that lies just over the horizon. We can proclaim that yet another subject will serve as the final, real test of the UN's credibility. And Americans can claim that the attempt to thread US foreign policy through the eye of a UN needle is an end in itself.
Or we can say: No more. We gave this organization 60 years of our best efforts - Americans gave $5 billion last year alone. But our reform efforts have failed.
And in return for our willingness to look first to the UN for solutions, we emboldened Iran, its proxy Hizbullah and fellow terrorists around the world. We handed our enemies the mantle of human rights and left more Sudanese to die.
There is an antidote to the self-doubt and moral relativism planted in our midst by Turtle Bay. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist calls it a "council of democracies outside of the UN systemâ€¦[that would] truly monitor, examine and expose human rights abuses around the globe." Such a gathering is an idea whose time has come: the United Democratic Nations - an international organization of democracies, by democracies and for democracies.
A world war is being waged, and the UN is not on our side. It is a tragedy in view of its beginnings and its promise, but the tragedy will be far greater if we refuse to say: Enough.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, professor at Touro Law Center and editor of www.EYEontheUN.org