Kicking the UN

The House is about to embark on a short-sighted and ultimately counterproductive attempt to shave the funding of an organization that serves U.S. foreign-policy interests.

It’s such an easy target. It’s not the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last, that Congress has identified the United Nations for cuts.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is to mark up the fiscal 2012 State Department authorization bill on Wednesday as the process of appropriation begins. What I find particularly objectionable is the proposed withholding of funds to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is responsible for the welfare and education of 4.8 million Palestinian refugees, and the underfunding of U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) would also withhold funding from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. The agency is certainly not performing in a manner I would have wished, but it is a big improvement over its discredited predecessor, the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

UN peacekeeping actually saves U.S. taxpayers money. According to the Government Accountability Office, it costs less to deploy U.N. peacekeepers — who may include American soldiers — than fielding a comparable U.S. military force. U.N. peacekeepers were vital to the holding of an independence referendum in South Sudan, which became the U.N.’s latest member state last Thursday and which was supported in its struggle for many years by American church groups. The peacekeepers are helping to rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, which caused their own headquarters to collapse.

The sad reality is that the United Nations remains a political football in Washington. The Obama administration has ensured that the U.N. regular and peacekeeping dues have been fully funded by the United States over the last two years. So ultimately the defunding attempts by the House Republicans will come to a shuddering halt in the Democratic-controlled Senate. It’s all part of the cynical game-playing that has given Washington a bad name in the rest of the country.

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