The next President of the United States is going to inherit a collosal mess. Our troops will still be bogged down in Iraq no matter what resolution passes the Congress, and may be in Iran as well. There is not one nation on the planet in which our reputation is improving. Our problems with North Korea will not be resolved for the simple fact that Bush has refused to deal coherently with them since taking office and is showing no signs of making a change. The next president, our spokesperson to the world and the main architect of the way in which we will interact with the world, will be in trouble.
We can be thankful that there exist some institutions specifically designed to foster international cooperation and to assist nations that find themselves trapped in situations they cannot resolve. Of course I'm speaking of the United Nations. The UN offers our only hope for progress in Iraq. If we are also fighting Iran, the UN will be aour best hope for being able to talk with them as the conflict winds down. And the UN will of course play a key role in our efforts to repair the damage that has been done to our international alliances and relationships.
A huge obstacle to all of this, however, is the American people. The UN has a terrifically bad reputation among us - not just conservatives, but liberals as well. It is constantly depicted as a do-nothing organization, a paper tiger, a place for the ineffective and the corrupt to gather and blather. But is that the real picture of the UN?
I decided to take a quick look at three areas of UN involvement and the progress, if any, that has been made: Rwanda, East Timor and
Bosnia-Hercegovina (I'm cheating with this one because it's EU and not UN. Deal with it).Rwanda
There is still violence and unrest, and it is by no means a prosperous country. However, the genocide has ceased. The government has been stable for several years now, and work is being done to rebuild the infrastructure. A key fact, though, is how the poverty rate has been declining from a high of 78% in 1994 to a rate of 64% in 2000. I believe it has fallen farther still, but I can't find the stats to back that up. Rwanda is not a place I want to raise my kids, but it's also not the place it was in 1994. Progress has been made.East Timor
East Timor has also seen much progress since the destruction and death that followed their declaration of independence. Unfortunately, they would be in a better place had the UN forces not left in 2005, thinking the country stable enough for them to leave. This proved to not be the case, and the East Timor government requested they return, which they did. Order has largely been restored and poverty is being reduced. A large natural gas and oil deposit has been discovered in the Timor Sea between East Timor and Australia, and the two countries have already entered into an agreement to share development costs and revenue from the deposit. They've also set aside a border dispute in order to cooperate on this.
An interesting little snippet is that Starbucks has featured beans from both East Timor and Rwanda in the last couple of years, both times representing the first high-quality coffee exports for either country. The East Timor beans were in a blend and were awesome
. The Rwandan beans were one of the "black apron" offerings and pretty much sucked. But African beans can be difficult to work with because they are so citrusy-floral. Kenya is the exception because they have an extremely developed industry that has worked hard to diminish individual characteristics in different plantations' beans.
And yes, I've had Peets, I've had stuff roasted that morning in a small batch roaster, I've had coffee from the frickin' oldest coffee shop on the West Coast. Some Starbucks beans are pretty good. Some aren't. My current favorite beans come from a small roastery
in Lawrence, Kansas. They aren't nearly as dark as Starbucks, so don't worry about that. Seriously, click the link and order some. My only complaint is that they flavor some of their beans, but nobody's perfect.
Ahem. Back on topic.Bosnia-Hercegovina
As I said, I'm cheating with this one. It's really an EU project. However, the principle of internationalism is the same and so it provides us another good example. Most of the war damage is repaired, GDP is steadily rising and they are even in talks with the EU regarding membership. Problems are not all solved - but that's true everywhere - but this is a success story.
My point is that internationalism can work. It can turn around horrible situations, places that were viewed as hopeless in the past. Iraq looks pretty hopeless right now. Certainly there is still a lot that can go wrong there - a Saudia-Arabia/Iran proxy war for starters. But if we could involve the UN, make international involvement in Iraq not just America's imperial ambition and failed policies, we have hope for stabilizing the country and establishing something resembling peace in the region.
That is the task that confronts the next president. And yeah, that does make Bill Richardson
a pretty attractive candidate, doesn't it?cross-posted at Ezra's place