By Patricia Keegan
Living in the era of ever-present, dramatically changing events — ranging from earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires and terrorist threats, to lack luster presidential debates — it is important to keep searching for all that truly inspires and offers hope for the future. There is a hunger in the world that is literal and figurative.
Looking to the east and the “Arab Spring,” we see an amazing series of revolts born from idealism, a surging youth filled with passion to exercise their birthright — freedom — regardless of where it may lead. As we have seen throughout history it takes a revolution to crack apart the powerful shackles of suppression, and render brutal governments dispensable. The desire for freedom, justice and peace is innate, its exercise comes with a price — to make choices based on a sound value system that does not infringe on, but respects the rights and property of others. We, the United States, starting with President George Bush, promoted democracy in the Middle East, relegating it to the very center of his foreign policy. However, judging from the current ad hoc approach, apparently there was no workable plan in place on how to deal with the outcome of such uprisings. It is hard to imagine how any of these countries, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and hopefully Syria, each in a very fragile state, can recover without outside assistance.
At this moment, ripe with confusion and underlying chaos, you only have to be awake to see how everything is changing; this is a time to be proactive. In this new world we need new guidelines and a global consensus on impending crises that negatively affect the entire planet. America is not the policeman of the world, but since the end of WWII, it was designated the leading “moral authority.”
As the so-called moral authority, having watched the relentless slaughter in the Arab world, we should call for a “time out” to establish a boundary line that protects peaceful demonstrators, and warns brutal regimes of rapid and dire consequences once that boundary line is crossed. We should also not keep tarnishing the image we had in the world as advocates of human rights by valuing one country’s rights and devaluing the other. The Israeli population has the right to live in peace and freedom, but their rights cannot take precedence over the rights of the Palestinians. As we promote democracy, and with it, freedom of speech, nothing should impede the Palestinian right to speak out and plead their case before the international community at the United Nations, without fear of reprisal, or “punishment” by our Congress. Living in what they consider a veritable prison, with their land slowly ebbing into the hands of Israeli settlers, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas came before the UN in a most civilized way. After 20 years of negotiating without results, he brought his plea for statehood to the one platform where the ongoing plight of the Palestinians could be heard and judged by the international community. First they want legitimacy, then to negotiate the 1967 borders. This may sound like a reasonable request to the majority of the world. However, there have been threats of financial consequences from the US government and even more grave warnings from the Israeli government. On September 27, just four days after coming before the General Assembly, and disregarding the fact that Abbas had told Israel, and the world at the UN, that it would not negotiate or participate in further talks until construction of housing for Jewish settlers was halted, Benjamin Netanyhu, Prime Minister of Israel, announced construction of 1,100 more housing units in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian territory.
Looking back on the history of the UN, perhaps there are lessons to be learned, or pitfalls to be avoided. The idea for the UN was first conceived one year after the end of the first World War, during which 6 to 8 million lives were lost on the battlefield alone. As the world reeled in horror, heads of state came together to brainstorm and came up with some visionary ideas to help in the prevention of large scale wars. Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat and two term President from 1913 to 1921, was the primary architect of the League of Nations that came into existence in 1919.
Wilson had support from a majority of Americans, who believed that the availability of a platform for open discussion would encourage countries to come together in a civilized way to resolve differences. The mandate for the League of Nations was that countries would settle their disputes in a legal manner and that every country deemed worthy of becoming a member would have equal rights and representation. Above all else, it would contribute to a better and more peaceful world. The irony was the United States did not become a member; Congress, during Wilson’s second term, was controlled by Republicans, who sought a return to isolationist policies set by the Monroe Doctrine.
After the war, in an effort to keep countries from rearming, The League of Nations implemented sanctions against Germany. The sanctions were ineffective because too many countries were either allied with Germany or remained neutral, ignoring the sanctions by continuing to trade. The League of Nations waned as the power of Germany, Italy and Japan lead toward WWII. In retrospect, it was believed that such an organization can only work if the United States takes an active leadership role. Some even believed this lack of US involvement lead to war. At war’s end in 1945 the League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations, a shared idea between Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt.
In 1945 the UN had 51 members, it now has 193 of which more than two thirds are developing countries. It is the principal outlet for their foreign relations initiatives, and for many developing countries, the UN is the source of their diplomatic influence and their moral equivalency. Every country on earth, facing conflict, needs to believe in an organization that can, through its wisdom and experience, bring hope to implacable situations. Supporters of the United Nations need to shore up strength against what could become an indifferent and soulless world leading to more war.
Freedom is now a contagion, nothing will work unless everyone has equal opportunity. In this new world we are witnessing the consequences of what happens when freedom is long denied. So before we formally relinquish our moral authority, we must reflect carefully on our choice — to be on the side of justice for those who want to live in a free world, or to become bogged down by political ramifications. Hopefully, through the auspices of the United Nations, the aspirations of those who come seeking justice will be heard and dealt with accordingly.