A few minutes before Obama was finished speaking, the outside lock mechanism was triggered. Obama took his time greeting his admirers inside the hall, and then quickly departed, brushing right past the locked door. As soon as he was in his limousine, the lock opened, and Qaddafi was let out of his confinement, along with profuse apologies.
This year, Obama was more than happy to meet with the Libyan delegation, as its mere existence represents a foreign-policy triumph for him, for NATO, and indeed, for the United Nations, under whose authority the president and his European counterparts launched a miltary campaign to help the rebels overthrow the Qaddafi regime. As far as Libya is concerned, the U.N. is suddenly relevant again.
ENFORCER OF PEACE?
In his address to the inaugural United Nations General Assembly, President Harry S. Truman called the U.N. "a world organization for the enforcement of peace." Whether it is serving that mission now is one of the great perennials of global debate.
President George W. Bush didn't think so, and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, pursued the ideals that the U.N. was chartered to reflect unilaterally, often at the point of a gun. He, and President Reagan before him, treated the world body as an uncle in the attic--someone they had to feed from time to time but generally found annoying and whose contributions to the whole of the world family were minimal.
One reason why Obama appointed his close friend, Susan Rice, to be his ambassador there is because he agreed with Bush's conclusion about the U.N.'s effectiveness but not with his prescription. Rice's main charge has been to light a fire under the world body, to push it to live the values its charter represents. This reflects Obama's view that the U.S. cannot solve all the world's problems by itself, and by holding other large countries to account for their own promises, the U.N. could become more proactive and less reactive. Implicitly, the United States wants to check--or at least shape--the growing influence of China on world affairs. Obama thinks the U.S. can do so through strong and enforceable U.N. resolutions.
The U.N. has of course been an effective vehicle to organize the collective global response to famine, and to AIDS, and to educational disparities. But when the U.S. has acted as a steward, and not as combatant, it has become an instrument of U.S. power--a way for the U.S. to pursue its own geopolitical goals while distributing responsibility for enforcing them. Being the only superpower on the Security Council can be an enormous source of power for the United States, as China has long recognized.
Until 1991 there were two major sources of friction: the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Where the U.S. kept faith with the U.N. before the collapse of the Soviet Union, even as the U.N. dithered and refused to take sides, it has often lost its patience over the body's longtime hostility to Israeli military retaliation to acts of terrorism, which the world would attribute to the way Israel has treated Palestinian refugees. Twice, under Republican presidents, the U.S. refused to pay its dues. Twice, under Democratic presidents, were the dues restored, and the tone modified, and the U.N. reengaged. Often, the U.S. has used its financial leverage over the U.N. to shape debates where it can.