by on May 20th, 2004

We are by now all familiar with the right wing’s tirades against the United Nations, notably on radio and in their opinion pieces. The UN is alternately described as a democracy of dictators, a debating society for paper pushers and technocrats, a corrupt global bureaucracy, a precursor to world government and global tyranny, etc. Really, they’re quite upset with the multinational body.

But doesn’t the conservative right’s demonization of the UN expose a clear double standard, if not a touch of hypicrisy? (Let’s leave aside consideration of the liberal left’s misguided valorizations of the UN for another day.) Certainly, comparable international institutions and multinational bodies are equally worthy of a similarly skeptical distrust. Or are regional trade agreements, the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank above and beyond reproach? Perhaps conservatives are simply afraid they’ll be labeled protectionists and driven out of town if they were to wager a serious ideological criticism of global capitalism’s enabling institutions. Witness how the freemarketeers came down on Lou Dobbs.

On the other hand, perhaps conservatives would argue that the UN, in its current composition, poses greater and more pressing problems than the above mentioned institutions. They say the UN is corrupt. Yet the World Bank is rife with corruption. Since 1999, it has blacklisted almost 200 entities (in both creditor and debtor nations) for fraud and corruption. Imagine how many kickbacks slipped through the cracks in the Bank’s institutional integrity. Indeed, last Thursday the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held hearings on “combating corruption in the multilateral development banks.” Perhaps conservatives will listen now that a few Republicans have finally brought up the issue. Reuters summed up the Committes’s findings:

Corrupt use of World Bank funds may exceed $100 billion and while the institution has moved to combat the problem, more must be done, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Thursday. Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, charged that “in its starkest terms, corruption has cost the lives of uncounted individuals contending with poverty and disease.” . . . He cited experts who calculated that between $26 billion and $130 billion of the money lent by the World Bank for development projects since 1946 has been misused. In 2003, the bank distributed $18.5 billion in developing countries.

Right wingers also argue that the UN’s politically motivated courts dangerously impinge upon and even compromise US sovereignty. Yet, NAFTA and the WTO provide for tribunals whose decisions can override decisions of the executive and even Supreme Court rulings, as was reported last month in more than one major paper. The NYT quoted a law professor saying, “This is the biggest threat to United States judicial independence that no one has heard of and even fewer people understand.”

The right is virtually silent on these issues, and that silence is defeaning in comparison with all the chatter about UNSCAM. Perhaps the UN oil for food scandal is just one more piece of reality that would confirm certain of the right’s prejudices. Proof of a scandal will retroactively justify their opposition to working with and through the UN for the regime change operation in Iraq, just as lack of evidence supporting the Bush administration’s prewar claims and promises has been used to “vindicate” the war’s opponents after the fact. So, does the right wing have principled objections to the United Nations, or is this just sham opposition?

Charles Sanson