Huckabee’s math doesn’t add up

It didn’t shock me very much that Mike Huckabee, speaking at the “Take America Back Conference,” tried to hatchet the UN while pandering to his base:

It’s time to get a jackhammer and to simply chip off that part of New York City…and let it float into the East River, never to be seen again!…Let’s end the diplomatic excesses that these people enjoy. Let any country that is willing to spend the money that the United States is hosting–let them have it. Give it to the Saudis and let these diplomats suck the sand out of the Saudi desert for a few summers and see if that’s where they’d like to go, and make their ridiculous speeches.

But I find it truly surprising that a writer for Foreign Policy would choose to pick up that banner without considering the most obvious of counter arguments.  Josh Keating wrote yesterday:

I actually think it wouldn’t be the worst idea for the U.N. to find a new home. The security requirements for that many heads of state are pretty taxing on post-9/11 New York City, and it couldn’t hurt to have the organization based in a country that doesn’t arouse such strong feelings in the vast majority of the world’s population.

To be honest, I find this a little careless, particularly at a time when the city and its inhabitants are reeling from the economic downturn.  Obviously there are tremendous economic and diplomatic benefits for the U.S. in hosting the United Nations, and, clearly, those should be included in any calculus of whether the UN is a net positive, as should an honest assessment of the costs.

First off, the stringent security requirements and the accompanying costs are only a burden on the city one week a year.  At most other times the security perimeter of the UN rarely extends beyond its grounds.  The economic benefits, on the other hand, stream in every day, as the UN draws in droves of diplomats, press, NGO types, and business leaders to spend money in NY hotels, restaurants, cabs, shops, and on and on.  Mayor Bloomberg’s office has said that the United Nations adds $2.2 billion a year to the economy of New York City and creates 18,000 jobs. On top of that, the current renovation of the UN headquarters is expected to bring in over a $1 billion to U.S. businesses.  If I were a New Yorker, I’d be up in arms about a suggestion that would lead to more money being drained from the city.

Even if you just consider the one week where security is the highest, the costs very likely outweight the benefits.  Last week, in Pittsburgh, Mayor Ravenstahl suggested that the G-20 meeting cost the city $18 million and brought in $25 to $30 million.  There is a reason cities expend serious time and resources bidding to host such events.

Beyond all that, there is a clear power advantage to being the home team, and it’s a nod to sustained U.S. power that it hosts the world’s platform for diplomacy. Would the U.S. seriously consider ceding that advantage even if the economic costs outweighed the benefits?

I’m not sure what Keating means when he says, “it couldn’t hurt to have the organization based in a country that doesn’t arouse such strong feelings in the vast majority of the world’s population.”  Is this supposed to be a benefit to the U.S., the UN, or the world?  U.S. image abroad is tied not to the status of American power but how America uses it.  Regardless of where diplomacy takes place, it is the demonstration of constructive U.S. engagment with the world that shapes the “strong feelings” of most nations and the subsequent success of diplomacy and the UN (and the “world”).  Obama was roundly applauded in New York before and during his speech to the General Assembly because of steps the U.S. has taken during the first year of his presidency. 

In all I find this to be a silly side-swipe at the UN.  It makes me a little embarrassed that more Americans don’t overtly express pride at playing host to the world.