THERE ARE SOME THINGS DIPLOMATS simply don't do. Last week, Mark Malloch Brown, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, did one of them, pointedly criticizing the United States, the Bush administration and, for good measure, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Malloch Brown's taste in punditry aside, his concerns about the U.S. are well founded.
"From Lebanon and Afghanistan to Syria, Iran and the Palestinian issue, the U.S. is constructively engaged with the U.N. But that is not well known or understood, in part because much of the public discourse that reaches the U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors, such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News," Malloch Brown said at a think tank seminar. "The U.N.'s role is, in effect, a secret in Middle America."
Once they recovered from their shock at hearing a senior U.N. official faulting a member state -- and its most prominent one at that -- administration officials were sputtering mad. U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton blasted Malloch Brown for his "patronizing" tone, saying his comments were "a criticism of the American people, not the American government."
Nonsense. Although his comments were impolite, Malloch Brown was aiming squarely at the U.S. government. His intent was to point out that the United States is the most critical and engaged member of the United Nations, that the two work hand in hand every day around the globe -- but that U.S. political leaders do little or nothing to point this out.