The United Nations: Graft 101

An fascinating blog, "The Diplomad" (so called because its posters are current and former diplomats with the State Department), has posted an excellent article on the U.N. which dovetails nicely with the news coming out about the Oil-for-Bureaucrats scandal.

Also note the discussion taking place in the Comments section.

One idea raised in class recently, which I think has a lot of merit, is that we should attempt to set up parallel and competing international organizations, that would give nations an alternative to the increasingly sclerotic and corrupt U.N. (In particular, I believe that one of these organizations should be made up solely of liberal democracies.) The basic argument is that the United States and other nations benefit if they have a number of channels of communication, so that they could choose the most advantageous method for any given need. To lump everything together under one roof leads to bloat.

The other issue is that the U.N. presents, in theory, the danger of a true world government. (I doubt they could achieve it in practice, because the U.N. has shown itself to be breathtakingly incompetent for all of its history.) A world government would have its power completely unchecked, leading inexorably to tyranny, especially if it is begun from such flawed material as the U.N. By creating multiple parallel organizations, this threat is mitigated.

The first step, of course, is to recognize that the United Nations is truly an evil. Many people still base their views of the U.N. on its professed mission to bring about world peace and alleviate human suffering. Such goals are laudible; but we must see clearly that the U.N. is not actually working to accomplish them, and has not been for some time. It has instead become a mechanism for autocracies and illiberal democracies to gain access to world legitimacy, international (largely American) money, and a club with which to strike America.

America founded the U.N. in large part to make the rest of the world comfortable with its hegemony, by artificially constraining American power under the rules of the U.N. Charter. Now other member-nations hostile to the U.S. have been exploiting the U.N. in order to tie down the American giant with chains of paper. This in itself makes many question why we should remain a member ourselves. But for this to be compounded with such naked greed, corruption, and callous disregard for the people who need U.N. support (such as the people of Iraq during the Oil-for-Food program) is an abomination.

It is in the interest of the world to construct many, many international organizations which can compete directly with this sinkhole of evil, so that the U.N. will either be forced to reform itself or die a miserable, and richly-deserved, death.


The Palestinian Authority: Endgame

Those of us observing the aftermath of Arafat's passing got our first taste of what is to come when Mahmoud Abbas, acting head of the Palestinian Authority, was nearly assassinated while he and Muhammad Dahlan were visiting Arafat's mourning-tent. Two bodyguards were killed and several mourners wounded. The attackers were apparently from the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades (recently renamed the Arafat Martyrs Brigades).

Abbas had announced plans for an election to be held on January 9. That date will mark a fundamental breakdown in the Palestinian government, no matter what happens, for the simple reason that any free and fair election will almost certainly be won by Hamas, the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas has a great deal of popular support in the PA, and is hostile to the PLO and utterly opposed to Israel's existence.

Abbas is tremendously unpopular even among the PLO. He is tagged as an American lapdog, and is rumored to have poisoned Arafat himself. Even before the election he faces the opposition of several prominent PLO members, notably Farouk Kaddoumi, who publicly rejected the Oslo Accords and remained outside of the Territories in protest. Assuming Abbas stays alive and in power long enough to reach the January 9 elections, he is faced with several bad options if Hamas looks like it will win:

1. Accept the outcome of the elections and transfer power peacefully.

Given past history, the chances of this happening are nil. Not only does Abbas want power, but if Hamas ever does take over the leadership Israel will be forced to crush the PA once and for all. Israel cannot afford to let Hamas, who didn't even go through the charade of negotiations as did the PLO, gain international legitimacy in any way.

2. Declare Hamas an invalid participant in the elections.

Political (and literal) suicide.

3. Declare a state of emergency and pospone the elections for trumped-up reasons.

Almost as bad as option 2.

The most likely scenario is that we will see a rash of assassinations of leaders on all sides; I doubt Abbas will live long, and eventually things will settle down with a strong dictator taking power. That's the "best-case" scenario. The other thing we could see is all-out civil war between Hamas and the PLO, with street battles and casualties in the thousands. That's assuming that Iran doesn't begin thinking that it could take control, and bringing their proxy Hizbullah into the mix.

What can America and Israel do about it? Not much. The man they would prefer to see in power, Abbas, is a condemned man. I believe the most prudent course of action would be to stay out of the way and hope the fighting ends quickly.


Red vs. Blue

I don't usually do this, but this post on Orthodox & Heterodox is a wonderful picture of how conservative America views the various hypocrasies of liberal America. (Yes, I know that conservative America has its own hypocrasies. But unless you point me to an equally funny piece on that topic, you're out of luck.)

[Edit: broken link repaired.]


Free Speech

Yesterday, my college had the honor of hosting Salman Rushdie, who held a private Q&A session with a small number of students and faculty (myself among them), before giving a public lecture. It was utterly fascinating in many respects; I will restrict this post to one issue in particular that he brought up.

In the public lecture, Mr. Rushdie said that the defense of free speech is most important when it is speech that disgusts you. He then related the story of a movie which was made after Khomeini had issued the fatwa against him. This movie, called International Guerrillas or something similar, told the story of a group of "guerrillas" (i.e. terrorists) who were determined to hunt down Mr. Rushdie and kill him. Rushdie was portrayed as living a debauched life in a palace in the Philippines, protected by the Israeli secret services. After several acts of cruelty against the guerrillas (not least, reading to them from the Satanic Verses), Rushdie is finally struck down by Allah himself, and thus justice is served.

A copy of this movie was brought over to Britain, and was submitted for certification. The certifying board was advised by their lawyers that this film was inflammatory, and that if Rushdie was attacked as a result of it, he could sue the board. They therefore were set to declare the film banned. Rushdie was placed in the unusual situation of protesting on behalf of a movie that advocated his murder, to ensure that it would stand or fall on its own merits, and not become a "hot item" simply because of the public opposition. (Cf. The Passion.) In the end, the movie opened to empty houses even in the predominantly Muslim areas, because it was a lousy movie.

I found this interesting most of all in light of a comment he had made in the private session about quiesence in the face of extremism. Speaking of the many protests in Britain where public figures called for his murder, Rushdie said with some agitation, "Not one of them was ever arrested."

Apparently, if you make a public statement calling for the death of another, you should be arrested. But if you make a work of art (or something approximating art) calling for the death of another, that art is legitimate and should be allowed.

I am not sure how to respond to this. One could argue this position on practical grounds, i.e. that a banned movie becomes much more powerful because it can remain underground, while public speech is in any event public speech. But I wonder how much of this comes from a poorly-justified elevation of "art" over simple speech. Conceptually, there is very little difference between the two, as far as incitement to murder goes. As an aspiring writer, I can understand why artists and intellectuals would want to secure a special status for their work. But I am skeptical that such a status should automatically exempt art from the "crowded theater" rule.

But I remain undecided on this point.

In other news, David Carr of Samizdata reports in his incomparable style:

Reports from Paris indicate that there has been a marked improvement in the condition of Yasser Arafat.

He's dead.


Small Arms Balance

The United States armed forces are getting to use their new capabilities to the fullest in the Falluja assault. Networked units, night-vision capability, close air and artillery support are flattening the irregular forces who have no good way to defend against the punishing firepower.

US troops are much safer now as well, thanks to the next generation of Kevlar and ceramic technology found in the new Interceptor Vests, the first body armor capable of stopping a 7.62mm round (used by the AK-47, AK-74, and many types of heavy machine guns favored by guerrilla and terror groups because they are cheap and plentiful).

A friend of mine noted that the present trend in military weapons manufacturing is to develop rounds with less and less power. He theorized that this was to ensure that the advantage stays with the side with the body armor, which is prohibitively expensive for guerrilla-type organizations. (The Interceptor costs over a thousand dollars, while the AK-47 can be bought in some areas of Iraq for less than a hundred.) At the moment, there are some rounds that can still penetrate body armor. These include hunting rounds like the 30-.06, and the .50 Barrett round; but both of these are expensive, and neither of them can produce fully-automatic fire, a necessity against a regular army.

In short, the irregular enemies of the modern army are overwhelmingly outgunned, and are much less capable of injuring their target.

How do they adjust? When possible, they attack easier targets such as the Iraqi police or National Guard, who are not as well equipped as American forces. This is a temporary situation, however, and in any event it does not prevent American troops from counterattacking. Irregulars also rely heavily on roadside bombs and other types of explosives, but the roads are coming under increasing surveillance, making it harder to plant the bombs safely. Moreover, the same advanced Kevlar is now armoring American Humvees and other vehicles, reducing the bombs' effectiveness.

It seems that the weapons-balance has returned to the days of the armored knight, pre-longbow. The army with the greatest budget and support structure is unstoppable.

Of course, nothing will stop the enemy from developing their own capabilities. Hizbullah apparently has developed an unmanned aerial drone, which flew over the Lebanese border a few days ago…

[UPDATE: I have been informed that there are indeed 30-06 and .50 rifles capable of automatic fire. But they remain much less common than the AK family of assault-rifles.]