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Sabotaging the U.N.


CONSIDERED IN the context of the U.N. reform policy approved by the House last week, John R. Bolton seems the perfect choice to represent the United States in the world body.

An outspoken bully with nothing but contempt for the United Nations, Mr. Bolton is just the guy to carry out House orders to cut off financial support for the United Nations if it fails to dance to America's tune -- especially if he goes in with an attitude as a recess appointment lacking Senate approval. Those who want to destroy the institution have hit upon an efficient way to do it.

But that result would be tragic and dangerous for this country. However maddening it may be for Americans to provide a forum where speakers from all over the world routinely bash the United States, debating differences is far preferable to going to war over them.

Yes, reform of the United Nations is long overdue. A useful plan to accomplish that was provided courtesy of a commission headed by the improbable team of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, and former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, a Maine Democrat.

Reform can't be achieved, however, by clubbing the United Nations into submission with a cutoff of funds or with the overbearing presence of Mr. Bolton. Those tactics would simply reinforce the harshest view of America's critics.

The United Nations has long been unpopular with conservative Republicans because of its bloated bureaucracy, the unrelenting attacks on Israel and the notion that the United States might surrender any of its sovereignty to an international authority.

More recently have come frustrations over Iraq, outrage at alleged sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Africa and a corruption scandal in the oil-for-food program in Iraq that involved the son of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In response, the Gingrich-Mitchell recommendations included forming an independent oversight board with full audit powers and replacing the U.N. Human Rights Commission with a panel that does not include human rights violators, such as Sudan, in its membership, as the current commission does.

President Bush recognizes that bringing about such reforms is a task that requires diplomacy, not bludgeoning. His administration urged the House in vain not to impose an automatic cutoff of financial support, complaining it would tie his hands and relegate America to the sidelines of reform.

If reform, not destruction, of the United Nations is what he's after, Mr. Bush should also be able to see that Mr. Bolton is the wrong man for that job -- particularly now that he is faltering so badly in the Senate. It would be particularly unwise for the president to wait until Congress is in recess and name Mr. Bolton to a temporary billet at the United Nations, which does not require Senate approval. Installing a U.N. ambassador who was unable to gain Senate approval would rob the emissary of any credibility on the world stage.

It may well be up to Mr. Bolton, though, to help the president put reform of the United Nations on its most productive possible path by taking it upon himself to bow out.

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