The Obama administration pays its U.N. bills on time, embraces many U.N. treaties, and routinely praises the sacrifices of UN field workers — it has even raised the prospect of placing American GIs in blue helmets again. U.S. relations with Turtle Bay have rarely been better.
But the emergence of the Tea Party, a nascent conservative political movement concerned primarily with the size of the U.S. government but also hostile to the United Nations, provides a fresh reminder of the heartland’s deep well of antipathy for the world organization. It should provide a cautionary lesson for those who manage U.S. relations with the U.N.: they can turn bad on a dime, particularly at times of economic stress and national uncertainty. Indeed, after a brief respite, U.N.-bashing is back.
In the run up to mid term elections, Tea Party candidates have called for the withdrawal of the United States from the U.N., cited U.N. plots to rescind Americans right to bear arms, and decried so-called socialistic programs that promote bicycle rental programs in the heartland in an effort to curtail American freedoms. Dan Meas, a Tea Party candidate who just won the Republican primary in Colorado, charged earlier this month that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper‘s promotion of an internationally-backed bike ridership program was “converting Denver into a United Nations community.”
The Tea Party is a loose coalition of fiscal, social and Christian conservatives who share a deep suspicion about the role of international treaties and organizations, principally the United Nations, that they fear will curtail American freedoms, undermine American values, and siphon America’s wealth into unnecessary foreign pursuits. It has made inroads into the GOP, with Tea Party candidates winning Senate and gubernatorial primaries in North Dakota, Kentucky, and Colorado. The Maine Republican Party issued a platform that echoes the Tea Party’s positions, including its call to “oppose any and all treaties with the U.N. or any other organization which surrenders U.S. sovereignty.”
Rand Paul, a Kentucky GOP Senate candidate and a standard bearer of the movement, has derided the U.N. as a “forum for dictators like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya to insult the United States…. I believe that the United States should withdraw from and stop funding altogether those U.N. programs that undermine legitimate American interests and harm the cause of freedom around the world.” He has also borrowed some proposals from John Bolton, a prominent conservative critic of the United Nations and former U.S. ambassador, saying U.S. funding to the organization should be voluntary and that it was a mistake for the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to join the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, which includes many countries with poor human rights records, including Cuba and Saudi Arabia.
Sharon Angle, a Republican Senate hopeful in Nevada, suggests she would take a scalpel to the U.N.’s finances if she is elected. . “I don’t see any place in the constitution with those priorities about the United Nations,” she says. “So when we start talking about cutting programs, five percent per year, I think the United Nations fits into that category.
Angle, Meas and Rand follow a long line of American conservatives who have tapped into anxieties about foreign threats to U.S. sovereignty to gain votes at the ballot box. While their numbers are small, they have had an outsized impact on the American political discourse, particularly during periods of high unemployment and political and economic uncertainty. They have done so by mining ia deep reservoir of suspicion among less educated constituencies that America’s elite foreign-policy practitioners are conspiring with foreign elites to rob ordinary Americans of their rights, according to U.N. experts.