If a doctor treated a breast cancer patient by amputating her big toe, he would doubtlessly be kicked out of medicine. Medical quackery is punished today. Sadly, the same cannot necessarily be said of public policy malpractice.
Last Wednesday the US suffered a predictable diplomatic defeat. The UN General Assembly approved the establishment of a new human rights council to replace the existing human rights commission. The lopsided vote was similarly preordained: 170 supported the move and four – the US, Palau, Israel and the Marshall Islands – opposed it. The irony is that forming a new human rights body to replace the current one was the US's idea.
Over the past several years, the UN Human Rights Commission has distinguished itself for its subversion of human rights. With members like Cuba, Sudan, Libya and China, the UNHRC acted as a shield for human rights abusers while – in the finest UN tradition – its members named Israel the single worst human rights abuser on the planet.
This corruption of the notion of human rights caused the Bush Administration to seek the UNHRC's replacement by a new body that would make a clear distinction between democracies that respect human rights and dictatorships that abused them. This initiative was one of the central planks of the US's UN reform agenda.
Unfortunately, the Americans' noble plan had no chance of ever being implemented. The same forces that caused the UNHRC to become a refuge for tyrants were the ones responsible for establishing the new organization. Not surprisingly, the new human rights body will enhance, rather than detract from the ability of human rights abusers like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China and Iran to exploit the "human rights" label as a means of condemning the US and Israel.
So by pushing its reform agenda, the US not only did not solve its problem with the UN, it compounded it.
Also last week, the issue of Iran's nuclear program finally was brought before the UN Security Council. The referral of the subject to the council is a victory of sorts for American diplomacy. It only took the State Department three years (and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ascension to power) to convince the Europeans that Iran's nuclear weapons program constitutes a threat to global security.
Unfortunately, this stellar achievement will have no impact on the US's ability to gain UN backing for its intention to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Both Russia and China have made absolutely clear that they will use their veto power on the Security Council to block any attempt to take concrete action against Iran.
Against this backdrop, in an interview with Fox News last Monday, US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said that Iran presents "a real test" to the council. Bolton explained, "If the UN Security Council can't deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, can't deal with the greatest threat we have with a country like Iran – that's one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism – if the Security Council can't deal with that, you have a real question of what it can deal with."
The attacks on the US on September 11, 2001 caused a sea change in the way most Americans viewed the world. From the end of the Cold War until September 11, most Americans believed that in the post-Cold War era, organizations like the UN, which for 45 years had been marginalized by the superpower rivalry, would be able to fulfill their charge of enabling and preserving world peace.
For most Americans the 1991 Gulf War was a preview of coming attractions: Under the UN banner, the nations of the world would work together to contend with threats to international peace and stability. The strength of this view obscured a continuous flow of evidence from Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and the Sudan, which exposed the UN's total incompetence to fulfill its perceived mission.
For the Bush Administration, this fact only became apparent in late 2002. When a year after the attacks on Washington and New York the US failed to receive UN support for its policy of disarming Iraq, the administration made reforming the UN a central goal of its foreign policy.
Just as they forced the US to contend with the incompetence of the UN, the September 11 attacks also forced America to recognize that it had to change its policy towards the Arab and Islamic world. The attacks, which were committed by citizens of Saudi Arabia and Egypt – America's closest allies in the Arab world – showed that US-supported Arab autocracies did not foster regional stability and peace. Rather the administration understood that far from restraining the forces of jihad, the US-supported Arab autocracies inflame them.
COMING TO grips with this state of affairs, the Bush administration announced a radical departure from the decades-old US Middle East strategy: Rather than seek to enhance regional stability, the US would now cultivate democracy because only liberal, democratic regimes could guarantee the long-run defeat of the forces of jihad warring against the US and its allies.
So the events of September 11 made the US realize that its policies toward the Arabs and the UN had to be changed because far from advancing US interests, their old policies harmed them. Unfortunately, the new policies which replaced the old failed policies were incapable of solving the US's problems and so they too have failed.
It is not a lack of reform at the UN that stymies the US. It is the UN itself. An overwhelming majority of UN member states believe that their national interest is served by weakening and humiliating the US. Given this, the US has no chance of ever getting its reforms passed or its policy initiatives supported. By continuing to attempt to work within the UN rather than effectively abandoning it and establishing new organizations capable of contending with current threats, the US has entrapped itself, empowered its rivals and diminished its chances of leading effective multilateral initiatives against the forces of global jihad.
In its policies towards the Arab and Islamic world, the US has tied itself into a similar bind. Although after September 11 the administration recognized that the stability of the Egyptian, Saudi and Palestinian regimes was based on their accommodation rather than combat of jihadist forces, the steps the Bush administration took to contend with this situation so far have only exacerbated it.
To confront the fact that its closest allies were actively supporting al-Qaida, Hamas and other forces warring against the US and its allies, the administration announced that supporting democracy was its central aim in the Arab and Islamic world. This was a just and wise policy. Freedom does indeed hold the promise of eventually becoming the antidote to jihad.
The problem is that the administration sought to implement this long term policy in a manner that would satisfy the 24-hour news cycle. And so, it conflated the conduct of open elections – which can be organized quickly – with democracy, which takes years to cultivate. By pretending that elections are democracy, the administration gave the impression that Western liberalism is not a necessary precursor that guarantees open and free elections will engender democracy.
Not surprisingly, in the absence of liberal values, the elections that have recently taken place in Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq have brought about the empowerment of jihadist forces. Rather than embracing freedom, Arab voters are replacing one dictatorship with an even more dangerous dictatorship. The perverse consequence of this policy has been that the US, which so wishes to see democratic governments take root in the Arab world, has become even more dependent on the old corrupt, non-Islamist regimes that block any chance of liberal values ever being cultivated in their societies. This is the US's present predicament in the PA, Egypt and Iraq.
WASHINGTON'S QUANDARY is nearly identical t
o Israel's. In Israel, since the outbreak of the Palestinian terror war at the end of 2000, the same politicians who today make up the Kadima Party came to understand that contrary to the promise of the Oslo peace process, in this generation there is no chance of achieving peace with the Palestinians. In so concluding, the politicians who now lead the country understood Israel's basic problem: The Palestinians do not want a state, they want to destroy the Jewish state.
But like the Americans, Kadima's leaders – from Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres to Ehud Olmert, Shaul Mofaz and Ruhama Avraham – chose a policy that bears little connection to the country's problem and so has no chance of solving it. The politicians that now lead Kadima adopted a policy that says that in the absence of a Palestinian public interested in peaceful coexistence with Israel, Israel will create a Palestinian state without achieving peace with the Palestinians. That is, they ignored that the problem is war.
Since Kadima's policy prescription does not address the basic reality of war, the implementation of that policy last summer in Gaza not only did not advance Israel's position in the war, it weakened it. On the political level, the Palestinians reasonably saw Israel's destruction of its own communities in Gaza and the withdrawal of IDF forces from the area as a victory for Hamas. And so they rewarded the jihadist group for their success by electing them to lead the PA. On a military level, the lands Israel vacated now serve as bases for Hamas and its friends from Iran, Hizbullah and al-Qaida.
Yet, for all the similarities in their quandaries, the Americans are still better off than the Israelis. The Bush administration's decision to implement policies that have no chance of solving the problems the administration itself identified after September 11 has weakened public support for the administration. Today, the president's support base has shrunk to just over a third of the American public. Fearing defeat at the polls in the elections this November, Bush's fellow Republicans in Congress are pushing for tougher policies toward both the Palestinians and the Arab world in general.
In stark contrast, the fact that the implementation of Kadima's policy has weakened Israel has not caused the public to abandon the party – to the contrary. Perhaps owing to the disunity of the nationalist camp and its refusal to rally around its leader; perhaps due to the massive mobilization of the Israeli media and the Bush administration in support of Kadima, the Israeli public is rewarding, not punishing Kadima for harming its security.
If the opinion polls are correct, then in a week and a half the Israeli public will elect Kadima to form the next government. If this happens, then Israel will compound the damage the withdrawal from Gaza wrought on the country's security last summer as Kadima is pledged to continue implementing its dangerous and failed policy in Judea and Samaria.
So while America's democratic system serves to check misguided policymaking and forces leaders to correct their mistakes or be voted out of office, Israel's dysfunctional democracy rewards policy quacks and punishes those who point out that no matter how well one amputates a big toe, even the finest toe amputation can never cure breast cancer.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.