The Blog

The Feckless UN and its Feckless Leader

The United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon are not a full-blown army, but their presence right next to Hezbollah's military installation spoke volumes about their meaninglessness.
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I have always been a supporter of the UN and of multilateral institutions. I believe they are necessary and positive forces in the world, even with their obvious failings. It is hard, after all, to justify an organization that puts Libya in charge of its human rights arm. But I have believed that on balance, we need an institution like the UN. The last year, however, has moved me to a much more hostile and jaundiced view of the efficacy of the United Nations. It started with the oil for food investigation and scandal, and the obvious efforts by many in the UN, the Secretary General included, to cover up or minimize the breathtaking level of scandal. It moved from there to the impotence of the organization, shown once again, as Darfur imploded and we had yet another example of genocide right beneath our noses. Now we have the Middle East.

I mentioned in an entry a couple of weeks back my experience standing at the Northern border of Israel with Lebanon, seeing with my own eyes just over the border a Hezbollah bunker right next to a UN observation tower. Under Security Council Resolution 1552, Hezbollah is not supposed to be there. The UNIFIL forces are not a full-blown army, but their presence right next to Hezbollah's military installation spoke volumes about their meaninglessness. If they can't fight Hezbollah for its illegitimate presence in South Lebanon, then presumably, as official observers, they could report to the UN and the world about all the things Hezbollah was doing that contravened 1552. They must have seen the massive quantities of rockets, anti-tank guns and missiles and other sophisticated armaments coming in by the truckload from Syria and Iran. What did they do about it? What did they say about it? Nothing.

Now let's turn to Kofi Annan, who has been highly visible and vocal almost daily condemning Israel's strikes that hit civilian targets. It has been awful and wrenching; in almost every instance, though, Israel has been able to show how Hezbollah has been firing rockets or engaging in military operations from right there or nearby. In almost every instance, Israel has telegraphed its future military strikes by showering the areas with leaflets warning civilians to leave.

We know that Hezbollah has been firing its rockets aimed at cities and civilian areas. To be sure, its Katushya rockets are not very accurate. But we now know that Hezbollah has been packing its rockets with ball bearings-- designed for only one purpose, to inflict maximum damage on the civilian population in Israel. This is not collateral damage, a mistake, or even a result of carelessness. It is a strategy designed to kill and maim more civilian men, women and children. And in many horrible cases it has succeeded. I just did a Nexis search to see how many times Kofi Annan has condemned Hezbollah for this inhuman practice. The answer? Zero.

I can't tell you why Kofi Annan has taken such a one-sided approach to this crisis. Perhaps it is because of where the votes are in the UN General Assembly. Maybe it reflects his world view. It almost doesn't matter. It underscores the feckless nature and role of the UN today in world crises.

The only answer in Lebanon is for a robust international force that has a mission to keep Hezbollah from amassing rockets and arms as an independent army in Southern Lebanon-- including through the use of force-- until the legitimate Lebanese military, an arm of the government of Lebanon, can take on the rightful job of protecting the country. Lately, the dialogue around that option has been moving toward an expansion of the UNIFIL role instead of soldiers from countries like Turkey or India. If that is where we end up, given the history of the UN here and given the behavior of the Secretary General, it will be time to despair.