Romney, Iran, Genocide, and the UN

Mitt Romney writes to Secretary General Ban ki Moon to demand the UN block Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmidinejad from speaking before the General Assembly next week. “The only way he should be greeted in the United States,” writes Romney, “is with an indictment under the Genocide Convention.” Romney continues:

“A failure by the United Nations to take a strong stand against Iran’s President Ahmadinejad would be especially disturbing given the United Nations’ record of failure to prevent genocide in other circumstances and the failure of the United Nations Human Rights Council to confront the Iranian regime and others among the world’s worst human rights abusers. Failure to act would mean that the United States must reconsider its level of support and funding for the United Nations as we look to rebuild and revitalize effective international partnerships to meet 21st century threats.” (emp added)

Romney, it would seem, is prepared to condition American support for the United Nations on the whether or not the UN takes a “strong stand” against Iran. This apparently includes preventing the Iranian president from addressing the General Assembly (as all heads of state do) and serving Ahmidinejad with indictment for committing genocide.

Not to get overly technical, but the only country in the world that can block the Iranian president from addressing the General Assembly is the United States, which could deny Ahmidinejad and his entourage a visa to enter the United States. Romney’s letter might better be addressed to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Second, the United Nations does not have the power of an international prosecutor and cannot serve heads of states with indictments willy-nilly. However, one body that could issue an indictment against Ahmidenijad, if it was so inclined, is the United States District Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Of course, then we’re faced with the serious question of whether or not indicting someone for genocide who has not committed genocide waters down the definition of genocide, therefore making it harder to confront genocide when genocide actually happens.

There is a larger point that is also worth mentioning. Tying UN “progress” on a single issue to American support for the UN as a whole is a common rhetorical tactic by people who seek to gain politically from attacking the UN. But these kinds of propositions, if taken to their logical conclusion, would have dire real world consequences.

For example, should the US stop funding the UN because the UN doesn’t “get tough” on Iran in a way that satisfies Romney, we could reasonably expect UN peacekeeping operations around the world to run out of money. Some immediate consequences of that might include a Haitian refugee crisis and the resumption of war in Southern Lebanon / Northern Israel. Should US funds to the UN dry up, we might also see the World Health Organization fail in its on-going efforts to contain the Asian Bird Flu.

The point is, there are many different ways the United Nations enhances American security, directly and indirectly. It is simply dangerous to propose that America suspend its contributions to the UN over a disagreement on any single issue.