July 3, 2007

July 3, 2007 | Commentary on Europe

The Other Brown

An unfortunate appointment in Britain.

The appointment of Sir Mark Malloch Brown as the United Kingdom's new minister for Africa, Asia, and the United Nations represents the clearest sign yet of a break with the pro-U.S. stance of the Blair government. Malloch Brown, the former chief of staff and deputy to ex-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, is known for his stridently anti-American views and fierce opposition to the war in Iraq. His selection by new Prime Minister Gordon Brown sends a clear signal that his administration will adopt a more openly critical stance toward U.S. foreign policy.

It is extraordinary that in the midst of a global war on terror led jointly by Britain and the United States, the new P.M. has chosen a hugely controversial figure as one of his chief international spokesmen, a man who can barely disguise his contempt for the current American administration. Other than outspoken former International Development Secretary Clare Short, it would be difficult to think of a prominent British politician more disdainful of present U.S. foreign policy than Mark Malloch Brown. His appointment will be viewed in Washington as a slap in the face for the Anglo-American alliance, and does not bode well for relations between the Brown government and the Bush administration.

Although Malloch Brown will not be a full member of the Cabinet, he will be entitled to attend some Cabinet meetings. He is expected to become one of the most powerful voices in British foreign policy after David Miliband, the newly appointed foreign secretary. Sir Mark will find some common ground with Miliband, who was himself privately critical of the Iraq war, and had attacked Tony Blair's support for Israel during the conflict with Hizbollah in 2006. A seasoned veteran of international organizations, Malloch Brown may well overshadow his vastly less-experienced superior, the youngest foreign minister in 30 years.

Just weeks before his appointment, as the New York Sun's Benny Avni reported, Malloch Brown was made vice president of the multibillion dollar Quantum Fund, headed by international financier George Soros, a fiercely partisan figure in American politics. He was also appointed vice chairman of the Open Society Institute, another Soros-funded body. It is unclear whether he will maintain his ties to Quantum and Open Society while serving as a British government minister.

Sir Mark served as Kofi Annan's right-hand man during the massive U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal, and played a lead role in downplaying the U.N.'s own failings, bringing him into conflict with both the Bush administration and leading senators and vongressman on Capitol Hill, who were pressing hard for reform of the world body. Before joining the Secretary General's office, Malloch Brown was head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) from 1999 to 2004, a spectacularly dysfunctional U.N. agency that has recently become embroiled in a major scandal involving money laundering by the North Korean regime.

As chief spin doctor for Annan, Malloch Brown was an outspoken critic of American leadership on the world stage, and a constant thorn in the side of the United States. Sir Mark launched an unprecedented attack on Washington's approach to the U.N. in a major policy speech in New York in June 2006, despite the fact that Washington gives over $5 billion a year to the U.N. system, more than France, Germany, China, Canada, and Russia combined. His remarks were rightly described by then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as "condescending and patronizing", and "a very serious affront" to the American people. Bolton called on the U.N. secretary general to repudiate his deputy's comments, which he viewed as "the worst mistake" by a U.N. official in a quarter century.

Malloch Brown's intervention was symptomatic of an increasing tendency among U.N. officials to openly criticize the conduct of American foreign policy. Kofi Annan had sparked a major controversy in September 2004, just weeks ahead of the U.S. presidential election, when he described the war with Iraq as an "illegal" violation of the U.N. Charter in an interview with the BBC. Annan followed these remarks with a further intervention on the Iraq issue in November 2004, when he wrote a letter to U.S., British, and Iraqi leaders appealing for Coalition forces to hold back from retaking the insurgent-held city of Fallujah.

In his New York speech, Malloch Brown warned of the "serious consequences of a decades-long tendency by U.S. Administrations of both parties to engage only fitfully with the U.N." and condemned "the prevailing practice of seeking to use the U.N. almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics." He singled out for particular criticism Washington's decision to opt out of joining the disastrous new U.N. Human Rights Council, despite the fact that it was just as bad if not worse than the hugely discredited former U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Malloch Brown reveled in his attack on the American public as well as conservative sections of the U.S. media, speaking of "unchecked U.N.-bashing and stereotyping" and a "US heartland (that) has been largely abandoned to its (the U.N.'s) loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News." What was needed in response, he noted, was for America's leaders to support the U.N. "not just in a whisper but in a coast to coast shout, that pushes back the critics domestically, and wins over the skeptics internationally."

The speech was also an extraordinary political intervention in domestic American politics. In what can only be described as the first political stump speech by an international civil servant on U.S. soil, Malloch Brown rallied his largely liberal audience, which included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and his own landlord George Soros, with the stirring words:

Back in Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's day building a strong, effective U.N.that could play this kind of role was a bipartisan enterprise, with the likes of Arthur Vandenberg and John Foster Dulles joining Democrats to support the new body. Who are their successors in American politics? Who will campaign in 2008 for a new multilateral national security?

Sir Mark's New York speech had echoes of an earlier Commencement address he gave at Pace University School of Law in May 2005, where he launched a stinging attack on what he perceived to be America's lack of respect for international law. In his remarks Malloch Brown painted the United States as an uncooperative superpower that acts outside of the rules, without respect for others:

And it's clear that abroad, President Bush's push for democracy and freedom will run aground on the shoals of American exceptionalism if the United States keeps apart from this emerging international legal system. While the US's involvement has made the World Trade Organization a powerful facilitator of free trade and global growth, elsewhere, America stands apart. The United States is the country that has opposed the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol on the environment, even UNICEF's convention on the rights of the child.

Because this great ungainly magnificent giant of a nation that has led the world in advancing freedom, democracy and decency cannot quite accept membership of the global neighbourhood association, and the principle of all neighbourhoods, that it must abide by others' rules as well as its own. It certainly doesn't want to paint its picket fence the same colour as the neighbours and won't turn down the dance music at a sociable hour… Yet respect for law, for other people's laws as a basis for building shared international law is not only a calculus of foreign policy, it is also a reflection of respect for other cultures and points of view and therefore as relevant to the United States as to others.

More recently, in a June speech in London, Malloch Brown took another swipe at Washington, blaming the U.S./British-led invasion of Iraq for "a loss of credibility" for humanitarian workers serving in trouble spots such as Darfur, who are no longer seen as neutral: "Iraq is the immediate cause for this. And 9/11 the preceding trigger - but both come at the end of a process that has knocked humanitarian work off the straight and narrow of non-impartial help."

Malloch Brown's track record of outspoken anti-Americanism clearly portends trouble ahead, and the timing could not be worse. Faced with the rising threat of Islamic terrorism, as well as the growing insurgency in Iraq, and counteroffensives by the Taliban in Afghanistan, not to mention the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, the next few years will be a critical time for U.S.-U.K. relations. It is imperative that London and Washington are able to work together in addressing the major international issues of the day, which will involve close cooperation at the U.N. Security Council. It is hard to see how Sir Mark's introduction into the British government will actually help to advance the special relationship.

Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: Europe

First appeared in National Review Online