Cover Story

Diplomatic maneuvers

A struggle for control of foreign policy-making lurks behind the selection of the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations

Issue: "Reining in the UN," Feb. 17, 2001

Late from the gate to assemble an administration, President Bush managed to make it among his first orders of business to name a foreign-policy team. He gave Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice the nod within three days of Al Gore's concession. So why has the president waited into his second month in office to fill the ambassadorship to the United Nations? Insiders jostled to recommend a slate of candidates and believed Mr. Bush would name a candidate by the first of February. But as the silence lengthened past Groundhog Day, it became more apparent that a struggle for control of foreign policy-making overshadowed this pick. Pro-life leaders and social conservatives want a representative who will slow the runaway train driving abortion and other anti-family programs at the world body's headquarters in New York, and someone to curb the rabbit-breeding of UN bureaucracy. The conservatives have found a willing ear in Vice President Dick Cheney. Pragmatists favor a career diplomat or politician who will bring stature and experience to the United States mission at UN headquarters in New York, and that view appears to be shared by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Rumor mills say Mr. Powell wants a subordinate at the UN, not a colleague. Also in dispute: whether cabinet rank will accompany the ambassadorship. Bill Clinton elevated it to cabinet level with Madeleine Albright's appointment. She went on to become Secretary of State. He also appointed to the post Sen. Bill Richardson (who later became energy secretary) and career diplomat Richard Holbrooke. Altogether, 14 out of the 24 U.S. ambassadors to the UN held cabinet rank. Who are Mr. Bush's likely choices? One persistent rumor has Elizabeth Dole topping the list of candidates. An advisor to President Reagan and both labor and transportation secretary under the elder Bush, Mrs. Dole more recently served as head of the American Red Cross. She is the wife of former Senate Majority Leader and presidential candidate Bob Dole. Former congressman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, is another persistent name. In recent weeks insiders have touted Raymond Seitz, U.S. ambassador to Britain from 1991 to 1994 (and a Texas resident), as the diplomats' choice. Detractors worry that those kinds of choices will be good at East River cocktail parties, but will fail to insist on serious policy changes. Conservatives have pushed for more ideological choices. Among them: John Bolton, who served in both the Bush and Reagan administrations and is a member of the International Religious Freedom Commission; Rep. Christopher Cox, who heads the Republican Policy Committee and investigated China's theft of U.S. military secrets; and Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon. Mr. Bolton appeared to be the choice of Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In a January speech Mr. Helms told a large gathering at the American Enterprise Institute (where Mr. Bolton has served as senior vice president), "John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon." His detractors say he has been too outspoken as a frequent columnist, criticizing both UN spending and priorities. Mr. Bolton also did legal duty for Mr. Bush during the Florida post-election battle. Moderates worry that such service makes him look too political for the UN corps. Mr. Cox brings a respected list of accomplishments from seven terms in the House and as four-term chairman of the House Policy Committee. He also was a potential vice presidential choice. His appointment to the UN, however, would further narrow the Republicans' slim majority on Capitol Hill. A coalition of Catholics and evangelicals endorsed Mary Ann Glendon for the ambassadorship. Catholic archbishop Bernard Law reportedly lobbied the vice president directly for her nomination. As a loyal Catholic and constitutional scholar, Ms. Glendon represented the Vatican at the UN's controversial Beijing Women's Conference in 1995. There she was a vocal opponent to the feminist policies put forth by the U.S. delegation and Hillary Clinton. But her critics say she lacks foreign-policy experience and will be seen as an ideologue. Social conservatives are fighting for their man or woman not only at the UN but in a roster of other diplomatic jobs. These include undersecretaries of state for global affairs and population programs, and the head of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor-positions key to U.S. policy-making on abortion, population-control programs, and human rights. "We want them," said Austin Ruse, UN lobbyist and head of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, because the Clinton administration "assiduously used them to promote anti-family policies around the world." The battle within Republican ranks to fill diplomatic vacancies will require shrewd diplomacy of its own, but some of the key issues driving personnel choices will be these: 1. Funding of abortion and other population programs
UN lore long ran thus: Abortion should be a universal human right, and contraceptives trump basic health services. So while four-fifths of Haitian women have access to contraceptives following UN operations there, only one-fifth can obtain clean water. When UN-funded organizations went into Kosovo with peacekeepers, "reproductive health kits" went in ahead of basic hospital supplies. Pro-life groups say the new administration presents a new opportunity to reverse the commitments of the Beijing Women's Conference and other forums that call for abortion on demand in developing countries and undermine parental discretion. Already the president in January reversed Clinton-era funding of groups that advocate abortion overseas. At a preparatory meeting for the World Summit for Children two weeks ago, Bush delegate Michael Southwick signaled further reversals. He criticized the summit's draft statement, which he said "inadequately represented ... the vital role the family plays in the upbringing of children." But optimism may run aground in the Powell State Department. Mr. Powell has openly championed a woman's right to choose abortion. Asked on a Feb. 4 news show if he agreed with the president's decision to defund abortion advocates overseas, Mr. Powell said, "It is the policy. I have other views that are my personal views, but this is the policy of the government, and it's consistent with President Bush's campaign promises. And it is consistent with the principles of the party that he represents." That tepid support leaves pro-life leaders hoping Mr. Cheney will hold sway over the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs when it comes to filling the UN post. 2. Peacekeeping proliferation
With TeamBush pledging not to become the world's 911, the world will look increasingly to the UN for emergency response. This month the UN Security Council will deliberate over sending troops to Congo and the Middle East. Mr. Bush insists U.S. troops will not submit to UN command. That leaves open a deft dance for the U.S. delegation: to weigh in on UN-funded military operations without becoming party to them. 3. Iraq and the rogue regimes
Immediate business for the UN Security Council includes what to do about Iraq. Pressure to remove nearly a decade of economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein is mounting. That debate could force an early face-off for the Bush foreign-policy team. As defense secretary, Mr. Cheney pressed to continue the Gulf War campaign against the Iraqi leader, and to support opposition groups in Iraq. Mr. Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, meanwhile, advocated ending the campaign four days after it began without deposing Mr. Hussein. But UN watchers say the Iraqi problem is the leading edge of a larger problem, the growing influence of cruel dictatorships ready to war on their own peoples or terrorize other countries. Says John Eibner, director of Christian Solidarity International, "U.S. influence in the UN has declined dramatically and there is a great danger that the agenda will be taken over by rogue regimes." Sudan's delegation, which last year nearly succeeded in winning a temporary seat on the Security Council, was successful in blocking UN credentials for Mr. Eibner's organization. Among other activities, it investigates and reports on enslavement of women and children in war-torn Sudan. In post-Cold War configurations, radical Islamic regimes like Sudan and Iraq have new clout. China and European allies tolerate their misdeeds because of their dependence on oil and other natural resource reserves. "We hope the Bush administration would make sure that these diplomatic vacancies are filled with people who have backbone, people who will defend the national interest and human rights," Mr. Eibner said. 4. The UN itself
Only weeks before the Clinton watch ended, negotiators at the UN settled a long-running dispute with their archnemesis, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms. The North Carolina senator tied reforms, ranging from a cut in the UN bureaucracy to the U.S. role in peacekeeping operations and several UN agencies, to payment of dues by the United States. In December Mr. Helms, working with Congress and UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, agreed that needed reductions were within sight, and released $585 million toward the UN's $1.1 billion administrative budget. More reforms are needed, say Mr. Helms and other conservatives. Despite expanded peacekeeping operations and rising refugee populations, they expect the U.S. contribution to the UN to be negotiated downward again. In the meantime, the pay-up leaves America-phobes with one less gripe and gives the Bush administration new leverage to shape the global agenda.

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Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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