Monday, October 24, 2005

The Hariri Report, the UN, and Legitimacy

It is difficult to imagine a situation when Julian may ever be satisfied with what the UN has done. Here the UN actually accuses high-level Syrian and Lebanese officials of taking part in a murder and he thinks this is another example of the UN being inconsequential. There’s just no pleasing some people.

Julian mentions “allegations” of possible “high level” interference by UN officials, causing the report to be redacted, specifically removing the names of Assad’s brother and members of his inner circle. Before we get all wound up in some conspiracy theory, one should note that Detlev Mehlis, the author of the report, said he himself made the changes without the urging of any other UN official once he learned that the report would be made public and would not be confidential. This is a perfectly reasonable explanation but, even if you don’t accept it, one should still see the report for what it is: a political disaster for the Syrian regime.

Let’s set aside the rhetoric and actually look at the effects of the report so far. Julian implies that, like reports of other international organizations, this report ends up with “muddy, often useless conclusions in an attempt to avoid rocking the boat.” Well, I guess someone better tell all those demonstrators in Damascus to calm down. That is not the result of a document that avoids rocking the boat.

What is even more interesting are the comments of some of the Syrians in the street when asked about the report. Comments were along the lines of, “well, if these allegations turn out to be true then whoever supported the assassination are traitors,” and “if anyone in Syria was responsible, they must be brought to justice.” Probably not the sound bites that Assad and his cohorts were hoping for when they planned this “spontaneous” demonstration.

No one seems to find that this is a report that was muddy or useless. Look at the news cycles, the report was portrayed not as milquetoast but a bombshell. Even Al Jazeera read the whole report on air. Keep in mind, even without the name of Assad’s brother, the upper echelons of the Syrian and Lebanese security agencies were implicated after an investigation. Maybe this is just like going after Scooter Libby instead of Dick Cheney.

Anyway, what unremitting detractors of the UN miss is when it actually does some good. They don’t realize, perhaps, that in many parts of the world the UN’s voice is believed to be more legitimate than that of the United States, or at least that of the current Administration. Especially after the intelligence fiasco leading up to the Iraq War, the U.S. is not perceived as being especially credible when it starts pointing the finger in the Middle East. But the UN, for all its flaws, is. This is one of the particular strengths of a global organization and one of the things that those who would wish that the UN would just collapse should realize: legitimacy matters. And, even if some in the U.S. see the UN as illegitimate, their view does not map to the rest of the globe. When thinking about foreign policy, we need to remember how others perceive situations as opposed to simply our own ideological views. In this case the UN is the enemy of our enemy. Any realist knows what that means.


Blogger Walker Wells said...

I think the type of moral equivocation involved in comparing the Syrian regime with the current US administration, or even comparing the UN favorably to the US, is relativist to the point of absurdity. What do you want those of to say about a body we consider egregiously corrupt, ineffective and silly? Yes, they finally called a murderer a murderer. Good for them. Wish they would have done so with Arafat. Wish they would find some gumption concerning Iran. In this instance with the Syrians, the UN said something that was right, though incomplete; but it just seems so typical that they won't come out and say fully what they know is true. Being politique for utilitarian purposes is one thing, I suppose; but the UN often seems to err on the side of cowardice and hand-ringing.

10/24/2005 4:49 PM  
Blogger F said...

I would venture to say that in Europe the word of the UN is felt to be more legitimate than that of the US, even among those of us who criticise the organisation

(Surprised you guys missed some note of the UN's 60th birthday though....)

10/24/2005 9:13 PM  
Blogger Chris Borgen said...

No comment on the 60th anniversary, you say? Check this out:


10/24/2005 9:58 PM  
Blogger F said...

My bad....apologies...

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