Obama Administration Won’t Push Needed U.N. Reforms, Experts Say

By Fred Lucas | September 16, 2009 | 12:42 PM EDT

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. (AP photo)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – Thus far, President Barack Obama has been almost entirely focused on domestic issues, prompting former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton to say he would give the president a grade of “absent” on foreign policy.
“Even though we’re here focused on domestic issues – health care in particular -- the rest of the world is not hung up on details about the debate of restructuring health care, how we treat immigrants or whether we have a public option or not,” Bolton said.
“Although it’s fair to say that Kim Jong -il probably favors the public option,” Bolton jokingly added, referring to the communist dictator of North Korea.
Bolton was part of a panel Tuesday speaking about problems with the U.N. the week before Obama is to address the U.N. General Assembly in New York City and chair a meeting of the Security Council. The event was sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that anticipated what would be discussed in Obama’s first U.N. speech.
The international body, which has been criticized for corruption and bureaucratic ineptitude in dealing with global problems, is likely to be welcoming to the new administration because it is showing little willingness to push for reform, Bolton said.
“On issues of nonproliferation and disarmament, essentially the two major problems in the world today, Iran and North Korea, will not be discussed. That is by design,” he predicted. “Nonetheless, it will be a great photo opportunity for the White House.
“It’s safe to say the reception to the president at the General Assembly will be nothing short of rapturous,” Bolton said, adding that former President George W. Bush once told him “I’m on to my annual trip to the wax museum” referring to the reception he usually got from the U.N.
“We shouldn’t be surprised at the adulatory reception the president will receive because of the disposition,” Bolton said.
Based on the speech last month by the current American ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, the U.S. will take much of the blame for the deteriorating relationship with the U.N.
That’s how Brett D. Schaefer, fellow of international regulatory affairs at the Heritage Foundation, forecasts the speech in which Rice said the United States has “stiff-armed” the U.N., and seeks to change to a relationship of trust and mutual respect rather than condescension.
“What we are seeing is just a complete 180 degree turn from what the Bush administration was doing,” said Schaefer, the editor of the ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search forAlternatives, a book of essays on how to reform the UN.
“Based on her speech, it’s the U.S. that needs to reform,” Shaefer added.
The International Criminal Court and the Obama administration’s stated support of the judicial body are major concerns for David B. Rivkin Jr., an international and constitutional law expert with the firm of Baker & Hostetler.
“You have U.N.-driven investigations that I’m actually quite concerned about. They want an investigation into Afghanistan,” Rivkin said.
He added that the ICC has thus far shown restraint, but believes that is only to build credibility as a means of gaining support.
“If they went after Israel and the United States for the first couple of years, that would not help in the way of credibility,” Rivkin said. “One day we will have American officers and soldiers – at least in danger – of being hauled before a foreign tribunal exercising universal jurisdiction.”
While the administration may have an interest in participating in the court, Bolton believes there is no real danger of even the Democratic Senate ratifying such a treaty.
“It requires the Senate to ratify, which I don’t think will happen. They need two-thirds. To me, the court itself is fundamentally illegitimate,” Bolton told CNSNews.com.
He also told CNSNews.com that the administration might reconsider the matter now.
“The risks to Americans, I think, are palpable, but it’s the court itself that is illegitimate,” Bolton said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they resigned it. But now that they can hear the prosecutors talking about investigating Afghanistan, maybe that will make them think again. It certainly should.”