Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A clash of civilizations: the UN vs. the US

There are two primary viewpoints that are emerging in the wake of the Tsunami disaster in SouthEast Asia. One is that of the United States (and in large parts of the world), where there has been a relatively quick movement towards action, both fiscally speaking and on the ground. Over $350 million dollars have been sent to aid the battered Asian countries from the American federal government, and large sums from other countries- and the federal tallies show no sign of slowing down. Private donations are also growing exponentially, worldwide they're valued at somewhere between $1 to $2 Billion USD. On top of that, the US is sending naval warships to assist in the rescue operations, cleanup, and damage control for the region. This includes the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier, and the USS Bonhome Richard, which are supplying the region with direct assistance from American military personell who have experience in dealing with these disasters. I'll be honest: I applaud all parties involved in the response to the disaster in these manners. Be it federal or private funds, they're doing the right thing for the right reasons. Even if I disagree with them politically or intellecutally, I won't knock anyone for helping out in any way that they can.

And then there's the UN. I want to be a fan of the UN, but these days I can't help but feel that they're trying to BE Hobbes' Leviathan and failing badly at it. They lost alot of credibility during the Iraqi War, and the aftermath (which is still ongoing), where for all intents and purposes, they tried to inhibit American actions prior to the war, and afterwards, have the Oil for Food scandal blow up in their faces. As bad as that has been, so far, it's nowhere near as bad as I think it will get. And I'm not even touching what the UN workers have done in the Congo. I have my own limits, folks. With their recent baggage still growing, the UN's response to the Tsunami disaster has been less than stellar. They've sniped at western countries, calling them "stingy" about releasing aid and funds to the region- while the UN has done little but posture on that issue. Germany has raised over $200 million, federally. Great Britain over $96 million. The US, over $350 Million. Even Mozambique has sent in $100,000 (I know they're not western, but still)! I don't think that's stingy at all- and in any event, I wouldn't be looking a gift horse in the mouth. But the UN did, and that's their bed that they have to sleep in. They're already seen, to some extent, as a corrupt institution, and calling many nations "stingy" is just bad PR, and extrordinarily undiplomatic towards the folks that pay about 2/3rds of the UN's budget. And, on top of that, they're nowhere to be seen in the affected regions as of now. And to add to that, they're trying to take control of the relief efforts, to lead the coordination groups. But with no visible presence on the ground- while thousands of American, Australian, and other troops (including Singapore as a staging ground for operations) are highly visible, doing all the grunt work. In short, no one's buying the UN's efforts to insert themselves into a leadership role in the relief efforts. Worst of all, the press releases and data that's coming from the UN about the disaster is of vauge nature. And on top of that, I can't help but shake the feeling that the UN's efforts in the wake of the disaster are efforts to control the money flow of the federal and private donations, and in which case, allocate some of it to the UN's own coffers. They're established as corrupt, precisely because they graft from funds and accept bribes.

But part of their motives are purely to reman relevant. They've been badly hurt by the Iraqi War and it's aftermath, as well as the reelection of most of the right of center politicians (Sharon, Howard, Bush, et al). They desperately need to maintain a good public image, for they are going to take a beating this year over the oil for food scandal. This was their chance- and they blew it, precisely because they screwed the pooch in the past few years with the real power brokers (the United States, Britain, Japan, Australian, etc....). What this amounts to, is essentially a classic case of those who act, and those who don't. The UN is made up of primariliy burecrats, and it's their dream job. Its not a place one goes to in order to do grunt and field work. Sure, there are idealists there, but they're the exception to the rule. On the other hand, the US, and the like, are founded on hard work, and getting things done. Those that are in the field right now, doing the hard work of saving people's lives and getting some of the damage cleared away, aren't taking polls or forming comittees ahead of time; they're just getting things done. Sure, they're coordinating with the proper authorities amongst their own people, and also those of the battered nations. The UN is busy doing the exact opposite, and the response they're getting is the cold shoulder from many nations. What this amounts to isn't that different from Samuel Huntington's A Clash of Civilizations- One side in which grandstanding and bureacracy matters more than physically getting onto the ground and doing the right thing, and another side in which getting the hard work done matters far more than anything else.

Despite what the Mainstream Media would have folks believe, I think it's obvious that one side will survive this clash, in the long run. And in the meantime, my heartfelt sympathies and prayers go to the disaster victims, both alive and gone. Contribute in any way that you can. But, for a contrast, I won't have any sympathies for the UN if they go the way of the dinosaur. I'll applaud real reform there, but it's increasingly becoming hard to justify it.


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