July 27, 2005

July 27, 2005 | Commentary on

A Reality Check for Britain

"The United Nations is only as effective as its members" is one of the arguments you will always find thrown back at you from supporters of the United Nations, whether the subject is the Iraq oil-for-food scandal or the human rights abuses committed by U.N. peacekeepers in Sudan. Faults are never laid at the door of the U.N. leadership, but always at that of the member governments - particularly the United States as the largest donor, of course. As we all know, an offense is the best defense.

Now, this argument has some merit - but only up to a point. Without major external pressure, no reforms or investigations at the United Nations can be truly effective. Yet, it is also the case that the internal bodies of the U.N. very much resist external pressure, a predictable bureaucratic reflex. U.N. member governments may ultimately be responsible, but they do not always have the tools to get at the truth and their efforts are often stymied.

Consider the internal investigation of the U.N. oil-for-food scandal, the biggest in U.N. history. A charge often made is that the United States made no attempt to oversee the program, so who are we to blame Secretary General Kofi Annan? But it is simply not true that the U.S. government made no attempt at oversight.

The reporting body for the Oil-for-Food program, the 661 Committee, was meant to give account to the Security Council of all aspect of the program from oil contracts to humanitarian relief. Unfortunately, as this was a subsidiary body of the Council, in reality, it simply echoed the policy conflicts there.

"The U.S. delegation was an active participant in all such reviews," Grerald C. Anderson, State Department Director of Peacekeeping, Sanctions and Counterterrorism told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in May.

"The efforts of the U.S. and the United Kingdom to counter or address non-compliance were often negated by other members' desires to ease sanctions on Iraq. The atmosphere in the committee, particularly as the program evolved during the late 1990s, became increasingly contentious.

The fundamental political disagreement between members over the Council's imposition of comprehensive sanctions was often exacerbated by the actions of certain key member states in advancing self-serving national economic objectives."

Furthermore, following Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the U.S. General Accounting Office which was overseeing some parts of the program, was met by a stonewall of refusals from program U.N. Director Benan Sevon (himself now implicated in the scandal), when it asked for internal U.N. audits. Mr. Sevon further told contractors not to not to share any information with U.S. investigators before checking with him.

Much denigrated as the U.S. Congress is in international circles, it is the one body that has produced the pressure for change. Congress represents the "right wall" of U.S. policy, where budgets and funding meet the demand for accountability and transparency.

And pressure for accountability from Washington is the only way to clean up the mess in New York. Therefore, any U.N. reform bill has to include the possibility of withholding funds in the absence of improvements. The bill proposed by House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde does. Neither the bill proposed by Rep. Tom Lantos, nor the bill sponsored by Senate International Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and Sen. Norm Coleman do that.

Without the constant digging of the congressional committees we might not even have had the internal U.N. investigation under former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Mr. Volcker, however, clearly has demonstrated the limits of internal U.N. investigations, pulling his punches in his commission's first two interim reports to avoid directly implicating Secretary General Kofi Annan, who was obviously up to his eye-balls in conflict of interest himself.

At the very least, let's not blame the United States for the obvious failures of Mr. Annan's leadership and judgment. As Jeanne Kirkpatrick memorably said about the Democrats, "They always blame America first." As usual, that is a distraction from the real problem.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies of the Heritage Foundation. 

If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of the terrorist bombings in London, it is that there seems to be a stirring realization in the Muslim community in Britain, and here in the United States as well, that they are an important front line against violent Muslim extremism. Almost four years after the September 11 bombings, this reaction is long overdue, but clearly movement in a welcome direction.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has forcefully challenged his country's Muslims to take on the "evil ideology" behind the London attacks that killed 56 people, the most lethal attack on London since World War II. He called on Muslim leaders to "defeat it by reason and argument," as he said last week, proposing an international conference on Islamic extremism and its origins -- for instance, the Muslim religious schools of Pakistan where anti-western hatred breeds.

The fact is, however, that the young men who attacked the London Underground twice this month were not foreigners, but home-own terrorists, second-generation Pakistani immigrants, born and bred in Britain. This has been a serious shock for the Brits, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Muslim parents who came to the West to seek a better life for themselves and their children now, in some cases, find their young people under the thrall of virulent, religious preachers who reject everything their adopted country and West stands for.

American Muslims, too, are expressing increasing concerns. "We must get to our youth before someone else does," stated Maher Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California in last Friday's sermon, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. "We must respond to their needs and their questions so that we don't leave room for individuals with false and dangerous ideologies to lead them astray."

Now, there are significant differences between the American Muslim communities and those of Britain. American Muslims are generally much better integrated, this being after all a nation of immigrants. Further, their levels of education, employment and income are on par with or slightly above the national average. The biggest problem has been the so-called Muslim "charities" and financial networks that were discovered after September 11 to funnel money to terrorist organizations abroad; many of these were dealt with under the new power given the U.S. government through the Patriot Act.

In Europe, and certainly in Britain, the Muslim experience has been very different. British Muslims derive mostly from poor Commonwealth countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and were brought in as low wage labor after World War II to preserve the British textile mills in the old industrial towns of the north and the midlands.

Unemployment rates are steep among young men, leading to Britain's worst race riots in recent in history in 2001 in the northern town of Oldham, where 12 percent of the population is Muslim. Most of the bombers in the London attacks were from Leeds, another old industrial community that has fallen on hard times.

A disaffected generation has been fertile ground for imported preachers of the radical Wahhabist variety. Communities that have not been able to find "a minister of religion" have been allowed to import one from abroad. Writes Robert Leiken of the Nixon Center in his excellent study "Bearers of Global Jihad?" Immigration and National Security after 9/11," "In England, Islamist sects openly recruited for the Taliban, reportedly enjoying most success in the villages and small towns."

Rather than denounce their hateful rhetoric the British government and establishment has turned a deaf ear. Indeed, the notorious north London Finsbury Park Mosque, which helped produce a crop of terrorists including shoe-bomber and Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th September 11 bomber, was founded by the inspiration of none other than Prince Charles. The heir to the British throne approached King Fahd of Saudi Arabia who was only too happy to pay for the building. In the course of the 1990s, this mosque became a haven for foreign radicals under the leadership of firebrand preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was only this month expelled from Britain for inciting violence. Many more that should to follow. 

If there ever was a need for peaceful Muslims to speak out, today is it. It was refreshing, for instance to read in on the op-ed page in The Washington Post on Sunday, that Mona Eltahawy, a columnist for the pan-Arab, New-York based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, expressed her own outrage over the London bombings. "London might have done it for me, but I am not done with Islam. The clerics and the terrorists will not take it away from me. God belongs to me, too." We need to hear more voices like hers.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies of the Heritage Foundation. 

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times