Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Robert Mugabe and the Irrelevancy of the UN

I owe my job to the United Nations.

Well, not literally or even directly, of course, but still… It was a course in the United Nations and World Government that finally pushed me over the edge and convinced me that I wasn’t really a Government major after all, and maybe this theatre thing would work out somehow. I’d survived one “One World” kind of course—I don’t remember the exact title—but whereas the professor for that course, too, made his ideology very apparent, I felt as if I could disagree with him without repercussions, and he was an excellent teacher, to boot.

I’m not saying the prof for the UN course was an “agree with me… or else” type—you know, the kind the right wing press thinks we all are—but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. I read a couple chapters of the textbook, heard a lecture or two, and bailed. I believe it was the only course at any level I ever dropped more than one class day into the term.

But whereas I never regarded the UN as a panacea or even as a terribly enlightened body, I was always attracted to both the idea and the ideal. Even as a child, growing up an hour and a half or two hours up the Thruway from the city where the headquarters were (and are) located, I was fascinated by international diplomacy and its various manifestations. And the structure of the United Nations, the General Assembly where all countries are equal and the Security Council with its five nations with veto power, made a lot of sense to me.

My image of the UN was idealistic and probably rather romantic: enough so that my positive impression withstood the inevitable poundings caused by absurd votes, even more ridiculous vetoes, and a string of corrupt officials. I knew, of course, that no real organization could live up to my desires and expectations for the UN, but I believed, at least aspirationally. An enterprise as noble as this should not be de-railed, I reasoned, by the simple fact that the real-life manifestation was often controlled by the incompetent and the corrupt. After all, if you look at the most recent string of US Presidents, the only two without some serious ethical problems—Ford and Carter—were also the most ineffectual. Yet since the end of the Vietnam War, virtually no one but cynical right-wing politicians pandering to the wing-nut elements of their constituency (e.g., Rick Perry) has ever suggested secession or similar unpatriotic means to express disapproval.

Thus, I always got a little irked at politicians and pundits—mostly from the right—who brayed incessantly about how this country shouldn’t pay its UN dues and whatnot. Whatever its faults, the UN has its functions. If nothing else, it grants (or withholds) an international imprimatur to military actions—in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria, and so on.

And then… there was the announcement this week that the newest international envoy for tourism is… would you believe Robert Mugabe? Here’s David Smith of The Guardian:
Improbable as it seems, the Zimbabwean president, who is widely accused of ethnic cleansing, rigging elections, terrorising opposition, controlling media and presiding over a collapsed economy, has been endorsed as a champion of efforts to boost global holidaymaking.

Despite that fact Mugabe, 88, is under a travel ban, he has been honoured as a “leader for tourism” by the UN's World Tourism Organisation, along with his political ally, Zambian president Michael Sata, 75. The pair signed an agreement with UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai at their shared border at Victoria Falls on Tuesday.

Zimbabwe's state-owned Herald newspaper quoted Rifai urging tourists from around the world to visit: “I was told about the wonderful experience and the warm hospitality of this country… By coming here, it is recognition, an endorsement on the country that it is a safe destination.”
Seriously, if we were to rate stupid ideas on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being a silly mistake and 10 being ontological imbecility, this is about a 14. It would make more sense to ask Larry King for marital advice, to name Rush Limbaugh as the head of a physical fitness commission, to commemorate Abu Ghraib on a postage stamp, to give Rod Blagojevich an endowed chair in political ethics, to care what Donald Trump thinks about absolutely anything.

This, Gentle Reader, is off the scale. Mugabe truly is the Marxist thug some on the right try to portray President Obama as being. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the most corrupt leaders in the world, to have brutally suppressed political dissent, to have more than a little blood on his hands. He can’t travel himself, because of international sanctions. And this is the new face of international tourism. Brilliant.

I should point out, however, that Mugabe wasn’t necessarily the UN’s first choice. After all, the naked face-eater guy in Miami was killed Sunday, so officials had to scramble two days later to find the next-best representative of all the qualities one could expect in an honoree.

With this single, transcendent act of cataclysmic idiocy, the United Nations has definitively driven the last nail into its own coffin. I still yearn for an international organization wherein member states might be encouraged to discuss instead of invading, to negotiate instead of saber rattling, even to shout instead of launching air attacks. But this organization, the way it’s currently constituted: raze it, salt the earth, and start over somewhere else. It is officially, unequivocally, irrevocably, irrelevant.

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