Thursday, June 12, 2003
What's Plan B?It's fashionable, and perhaps too easy, to bash the United Nations. Still, sometimes it's so easy because it's so necessary. The problem is not that the UN is utterly useless -- plenty of organizations are -- but that people are determined to pretend otherwise. Remember all those people who wanted to let the UN handle the Iraq situation, both before and after the war actually began? Well, maybe the way the UN, and the international community generally, is handling the mess in the Congo should be seen as instructive of why the Bush administration was determined to bypass the organization as often as possible:
Three days after gun battles between warring ethnic militias brought this town to a terrified standstill, the newly arrived commander of the multinational force dispatched by the United Nations pledged today "to reassure and to protect" its people. But he made clear he did not intend to disarm the fighters, many of them children.In short, it's a peacekeeping force that has no plans whatsoever to keep any peace (and what makes this story even more precious is that it is the French who are running this mission). In fact, they have no plans to do much of anything; massacres have been going on, but the UN is standing by:
The United Nations peacekeepers in Bunia — who preceded the European Union force, and are hampered by a mandate allowing them to use weapons only when fired on — have been unwilling to risk investigating such incidents, let alone stop them.Which leaves the as-yet-unanswered question: why are they there? What's the point of getting involved if your mandate is to sit around and play cards? Is it just to assuage the collective conscience of the "international community" by letting them pretend to themselves that they're helping?
Now, the situation in the Congo -- an ethnically-based civil war, in which neighboring powers keep interfering -- is a mess, providing no simple answers. And certainly the United States hasn't made the sort of commitment to resolve the situation that it did with regard to Iraq. But is that required? Is the lesson we're supposed to take away from this situation, and the rhetoric surrounding the Iraq crisis, that a practical model of successful international cooperation involves Europeans deciding when something should be done, and then Americans providing the muscle to make it happen? Because I don't think that's going to be acceptable to many in the United States. Nor should it be. If they can't take care of the minor problems without us, then why should we solicit or respect their input on the major problems? The only reason would be if they had superior wisdom and judgment to that of the U.S. -- and it's a little offensive to suggest that.
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