Thursday, March 24, 2005

Rebranding the United Nations

In a recent opinion piece in the Guardian, Naomi Klein argued that the Bush administration was using modern advertising techniques to rebrand itself as "new and improved":
Last Tuesday, George Bush delivered a major address on his plan to fight terrorism with democracy in the Arab world. On the same day, McDonald's launched a massive advertising campaign urging Americans to fight obesity by eating healthily and exercising. Any similarities between McDonald's "Go Active! American Challenge" and Bush's "Go Democratic! Arabian Challenge" are purely coincidental.

Sure, there is a certain irony in being urged to get off the couch by the company that popularised the "drive-thru", helpfully allowing customers to consume a bagged heart attack without having to get out of the car and walk to the counter. And there is a similar irony to Bush urging the people of the Middle East to remove "the mask of fear" because "fear is the foundation of every dictatorial regime", when that fear is the direct result of US decisions to install and arm the regimes that have systematically terrorised for decades. But since both campaigns are exercises in rebranding, that means facts are besides the point.
Bush's nominations of Bolton and Wolfowitz seem to have proven Klein wrong. That is, for the Bush administration it's business as usual.

Claudia Rosett, in an opinion piece in Opinion Journal, argues that Kofi Annan's proposed UN reforms are also an attempt to rebrand:
To be fair to Mr. Annan, there are the germs of a few good ideas in this report. These include recognizing terrorism as such in all cases, rather than excusing select terrorists (i.e., as a U.N. rule of thumb, those attacking Israel) as "freedom fighters." It's also worth reshaping the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which two years ago embarrassed even the U.N. by choosing as its chairman the ambassador of Libyan tyrant Moammar Gadhafi. And there's no question the Security Council needs reform, though given that the council's basic failing has been lack of integrity, it's not clear why Mr. Annan thinks the answer is to make it bigger.

From there, Mr. Annan forges on to propose nothing less than reforming the entire known universe, via the U.N., while he bangs the drum for a budget to match. He wants to expand his own staff, change the world's climate, end organized crime, eliminate all private weapons, and double U.N.-directed development aid to the tune of at least $100 billion a year, "front-loaded," for his detailed plan to end world poverty. This comes from a U.N. that only three months ago was finally strong-armed by Congress into coughing up the secret internal Oil for Food audits confirming that under Mr. Annan's stewardship the U.N. was not even adequately auditing its own staff operations.

The grand failure of the U.N. is that its system, its officials and most visibly its current secretary-general are still stuck in the central-planning mindset that was the hallmark of dictators and failed utopian dreams of the previous century. Mr. Annan's plan takes little practical account of a modern world in which competition, private enterprise and individual freedom are the principles of progress. He has his own agenda, which he would like the rest of us to follow and fund. The words sound lofty: "development, security, and human rights for all." The devil is in the details, and because this is a blueprint for the future of the entire earth, that means a lot of room for big trouble. This report is not a benign document.
It will be interesting to see if the vast UN bureaucratic apparatus, and the members of the General Assembly and Security Council, actively promote real reforms or whether we're going to be sold the same old shit in a box labeled "new and improved". If I were a betting man, my money would be on the same old shit.


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