editorial: moynihan's gift

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Mar. 28, 2003
    Editorial: Moynihan's gift

    With the passing this week of retired US senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, America has lost a statesman and Israel has lost a champion.

    In November 1975, it was Moynihan who, as US ambassador to the United Nations, denounced the General Assembly's "Zionism is racism" resolution as "obscene."

    The United States, he said, "does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act." For his courage, Moynihan won a US Senate seat, which he would hold for 24 years. For its ignominy, the UN was relegated, in the eyes of much of the American public, to years of irrelevance.

    The UN's return to political relevance began, in 1990, with the Security Council's decision to endorse military action against Iraq. And its moral standing was restored, somewhat, by the repeal of the "Zionism is racism" resolution the following year.

    But neither would last for long. Bosnia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone the greatest political and humanitarian debacles of the '90s all owe directly to UN malfeasance. So, too, does the current war, brought on by a decade of UN unwillingness to enforce its resolutions and impose its arms inspections regime on Iraq. As for moral standing, that was again left by the wayside at the Durban conference in August 2001, when the UN, like an alcoholic falling off the wagon, returned to anti-Semitic form.

    Still, for the time being, the UN appears strangely triumphant. The reputation of its secretary-general (the same man (Kofi Anan) who, as head of peacekeeping operations in the 1990s, helped engineer the Bosnia and Rwanda fiascoes) has never been higher. The UN is widely looked upon as the great bestower of moral legitimacy. And the Security Council is used as an instrument to bring the United States to heel, if not on the field of battle then in elite salons and the court of world opinion.

    This is a situation Moynihan would have understood well. In March 1975, he penned an article for Commentary under the headline "The United States in Opposition." It said:

    This is our circumstance. We are a minority.

    We are outvoted.

    This is neither an unprecedented nor an intolerable situation.

    The question is what do we make of it. So far we have made little nothing of what is in fact an opportunity.

    We go about dazed that the world has changed. We toy with the idea of stopping it and getting off.

    We rebound with the thought that if only we are more reasonable perhaps 'they' will be.... But 'they' do not grow reasonable.

    Instead, we grow unreasonable. A sterile enterprise which awaits total redefinition.

    Twenty-eight years later, his essay remains timely. Once again, the US is outvoted at the UN. Once again, Americans are dazed that they find themselves unpopular. Once again, America does its best to be reasonable. Once again, its opponents do not grow reasonable. Once again, "a sterile enterprise awaits total redefinition."

    Moynihan's gift as a man, as a scholar, and as a statesman is that he did not especially fear unpopularity. He courted it when, as a part of the Johnson administration in the '60s, he punctured the orthodoxies and inflated expectations of the Great Society. He courted it when he served in two Republican administrations, despite being a lifelong Democrat. He courted it when he characterized the Carter administration's foreign policy as "autotherapeutic fantasy." He courted it when he opposed the Reagan administration's arms build up, predicting instead that the Soviet Union would soon disintegrate on its own. He courted it when he opposed the Clinton administration's attempt to socialize health care.

    As the Bush administration also courts global unpopularity to do what it believes is right, it should take heart from Moynihan's example. Rather than indulge the UN, it should put that body in its place. Rather than uphold an old world order unfit to meet the challenges of global terrorism, the US should promptly reshape it.

    Rather than pretend that it stands at the head of a broad coalition, the US should revel in the fact that it stands nearly alone.

    This is exactly what Moynihan did when he stood up, also nearly alone, to reject the "Zionism is racism" resolution.

    Let the record show the judgment of history has been kind.

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