Turtle Bay

Susan Rice defends the U.N. on Colbert Report

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, presented millions of Americans with a preview of September’s upcoming U.N. General Assembly debate, the annual gathering in New York of world leaders — some nice, some not quite so nice. "Sometimes it feels a little bit like the Star Wars bar scene, where some ...

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, presented millions of Americans with a preview of September’s upcoming U.N. General Assembly debate, the annual gathering in New York of world leaders — some nice, some not quite so nice.

"Sometimes it feels a little bit like the Star Wars bar scene, where some of the most colorful dictators of the world will come together and give their speeches," she said. There will be no black helicopters fouling the Manhattan skyline, she assured.

Rice was speaking last night on the comedy program, The Colbert Report, which has become a popular venue for American political and diplomatic leaders seeking to reach out to ordinary Americans that may not normally follow the twists and turns at Turtle Bay.

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Colbert started off by lobbing a softball question at Rice, mocking one of her predecessors — John Bolton: "he of the walrussy moustache. What is it like to follow John Bolton? Do you still find whiskers in the microphone?"

But Colbert promised his viewers that he had know intention of pulling his punches on President Barack Obama’s U.N. envoy.

"Don’t worry, I’m going to nail her," he told the audience.

"Why are you willing to surrender the sovereignty of the United States to these foreign governments who get to come in and say what we can or cannot do?" he asked. "Because there are well known plans to drop blue helmeted paratroopers into the United States to establish a government within the government and to take away our guns. You admit that?"

She didn’t. Rice went on to earnestly explain that the U.N. Security Council, the world’s most powerful U.N. body, "can’t even issue a press statement without the United States’ agreement. They don’t tax us; they don’t take away our guns."

Rice also made the case that the U.N. serves U.S. interests, allowing the United States to share the costs of underwriting U.N. peacekeeping missions so that it doesn’t have to go it alone. Rice also noted that the U.N. also enables the U.S. to work with others to halt genocide, prevent the spread of disease, curtail global warming, and rally the support of the wider international community in imposing sanctions on Iran, North Korea and beyond.

"Excuse me for interrupting you, but I enjoy it," Colbert said. "Iran is still working toward a nuclear weapon. [North] Korea got their nuclear weapon. I’m just as scared of both of these people. How are we stopping them? I mean, I know sternly worded letters are the bread and butter of the U.N. But maybe we should start typing them in all caps to let them know that we are really angry."

If nothing else, it was a useful discussion.

Earlier this month, I received a robo-message at my home in Brooklyn from Wayne La Pierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, warning me (and I presume, millions of other New Yorkers) about the alleged U.N. efforts to steal American guns.

At the end of the pitch, the gun lobby asked listeners to participate in a survey.

In essence, they posed two questions (I’m doing this by memory) A: Do you favor having the U.N. usurp your right to bear arms? B: Do you not favor having the U.N. usurp your right to bear arms? You can imagine how that one is going to turn out.

Rice went on to dispel others "myths" about the U.N. — "there’s no such thing as a black helicopter; there is no such thing as paratroopers wearing blue helmets" deploying on American soil — and make the case for the U.N.’s role in promoting American interests and helping to raise funds for the east African famine. "All this stuff about sovereignty is one big myth," she said.

But in her enthusiasm to make the case she fudged a fact or two.

The United States for instance, pays 27.14 percent of the U.N.’s multibillion peacekeeping bill, a bit more than Rice contended, "roughly 25 percent." We pay 25 percent of the U.N.’s administrative budget.

Rice also claimed that not a single American serves under U.N. command.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that she is talking about military personnel, not the 75 American police officers serving in Haiti and Liberia, or the many American civilians who must pledge their allegiance to the U.N. Charter.

As of July 31, according to U.N. figures, there were 13 American troops and 12 U.S. military experts serving in Afghanistan, Haiti, Congo, Iraq, Liberia, and in the Middle East, obviously a tiny fraction of the nearly 100,000 U.N. blue helmets posted oversees — but clearly not nothing.

U.S. officials acknowledged that the U.S. pays more than 27 percent of the U.N.’s peacekeeping budget. But they insisted that Rice was "factually correct" in claiming no Americans are serving under U.N. command. The 25 military officials on duty in U.N. missions are not under "U.N. command" but under the U.N.’s "operational control." That means, for instance, they can’t be transferred to another mission without U.S. approval, the official explained.

Hmmm, try explaining that one to Colbert.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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