Prominent Republicans speaking at this week's party convention have generated some of their biggest reactions at the expense of the United Nations. Their comments are rooted in Republican anger at resistance in the UN Security Council to the war on Iraq 18 months ago. But the Bush administration remains closely engaged with the United Nations on several fronts crucial to U.S. national security, indicating that criticisms of the UN at the convention are more about politics than policy.
New York, 3 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said the president does not need a "permission slip" to defend the country.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the United States -- not the United Nations -- was the best hope for democracy.
And Georgia Senator Zell Miller, recalling the bitter divisions on the UN Security Council, accused challenger John Kerry of wanting to "outsource" U.S. security to council members such as France.
"Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations [sound of crowd booing]. Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending [sound of jeers]. I want [President George W.] Bush to decide," Miller said.
The remarks at this week's Republican Party convention, though targeted domestically, have evoked animosities stemming from the UN debates that preceded the war in Iraq. But it is unlikely they signal any new shift in policy.
The Bush administration supports the strong UN role in guiding nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and is seeking a wider UN presence in Iraq. It is also working with the UN's nuclear watchdog to pressure Iran to make its nuclear program transparent.
U.S. ambassador John Danforth has been trying to build support in the UN Security Council for tough action against Sudan. Asked about the comments at the convention, Danforth told Reuters news agency that the UN is an important part of U.S. foreign policy strategy.
Lawrence Woocher manages global policy programs at the United Nations Association of the United States, an independent policy institute. He told RFE/RL he views the comments at the convention as serving short-term political goals, adding that there is bipartisan support in Washington for working through the United Nations.
"As a policy matter, there's really broad consensus in the American political establishment -- Democratic and Republican -- that the UN is an important institution, that it can be an important venue for pursuing American foreign policy objectives," Woocher said.
Christopher Preble is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based policy institute. He says despite campaign rhetoric, both major U.S. parties tend to conduct policy toward the UN in a similar fashion, seeking to advance U.S. interests. But he tells RFE/RL it is unrealistic to suggest that the UN is a threat to U.S. interests.
"It's just silly. The UN is not the source of our problems and the UN does not have the power to stop us from doing what it is we want to do. Period. So what are they booing about?" Preble said.
UN officials have declined to comment on statements delivered at the convention, which is taking place a short distance across town from UN headquarters.
UN officials say they are trying to reach out to the Republican Party officials gathered in New York this week. They have hosted hundreds of young Republicans and provided a briefing on issues such as UN reform and the organization's role in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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