One of the defining differences between right and left today in the US is that the left is enamoured of the UN while the right thinks it mainly an execrable waste of time, money, and resources of which not the least is mention bandwidth on the global stage. For the most part, I don’t want to concentrate (with one exception at the end of this piece) on Mr Obama’s speech to the UN, which can be found here. Unlike his predecessor, Mr Bush, Mr Obama had nothing but nice and complementary things to say about the UN, which at the very least supports the statement made in the opening. One of the primary complaints that the right has about the UN is that it has a completely open membership. Dictatorships have equal voice with Democracies. Free societies with closed. Coercive with (mostly) non-coercive. For the left, somehow this is not a fault but a feature. For the right, as a feature, it is sort of like more like the “smell feature” the outhouse has over the water closet.
A recent development in the last few decades in mainstream liberal churches has been one of open communion. Anyone who is a baptised Christian (in some churches these qualifiers are not in force) can partake of the Eucharist. In the early centuries of the church, “let the catechumen’s depart” was a feature of the liturgy. What this signified was the separation or break between teaching and Scripture in the liturgy and the prayers developing to the giving of the sacrament. Non-Baptised perspective members of the church actually left the church proper and the doors were locked at this time. This was likely far more important during the period of persecution prior to Constantine and the legalization of Christianity. That reminds me of a story from Eastern Europe, which I may be misremembering but I think I’ll get the gist of it. A troop of soldiers entered a church at the start of a service. They told the people present that if they continued they would be arrested (or shot … I forget). Some left, but many remained resolute to continue their worship no matter the consequences. At that point the soldiers dropped their arms and joined in worship, allowing that they had to weed out informers.
The film, The Tuskegee Airmen, teaches a lesson misread by many. The lesson for the UN is that by restricting membership and making the road to qualification harder, the effect is to create a better more elite capable force. For the UN, this might mean that benefits to membership combined with the introduction of qualification for entry might create a better more capable organization.
The point of this is that qualifications for membership has purpose. It is not a priori a bad thing. It certainly might be more useful if membership in the UN (or some alternate organization) required confirmation and affirmation that their nation was free and not coerced. When the UN is the only game in town, you end up with armies of rapists stationed to “police” unrest in the Congo. You get anti-Semitic declarations made by human rights congresses and so on. The list goes on. The root of this problem is that so many of the representatives in the UN assembly represent not a nation but an individual or small coterie or junta in power.
Oddly enough on the hotly debated questions of torture he said:
On my first day in office, I prohibited — without exception or equivocation — the use of torture by the United States of America. (Applause.) I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law. Every nation must know: America will live its values, and we will lead by example.
Hmm, how is that for accuracy. Guantanamo Bay is still actually open, torture is still in the Executive quiver (Mr Greenwald has exhaustively documented the loopholes and exceptions), and his “forging a framework to combat extremism” has mostly been (in the public view at any rate) a matter of outlawing the use of the phrase, “war on terror.” One wonders if “you can tell I’m lying because my mouth is moving” is to be viewed in the context of the preceding sentences as a American value or whether prevarication is the norm and expected in the halls of the UN.