So yesterday I cobbled together a piece on the US withdrawal of funds from UNESCO and why I thought it was a horrible idea in terms of diminishing US soft power. Well, it turns out the domestic political situation surrounding that choice is even worse than I thought. I hit Congress pretty hard, but assumed that it was mostly Republicans who would come out in support of the law as it stands. In the words of Chuck Testa, nope. As reported by Josh Rogin in Foreign Policy:
Will senior Senate Democrats intervene on behalf of the U.S. role in international organizations? Not likely. Democratic senators told The Cable they either support cutting funds to U.N. organizations that grant membership to the Palestinians, or at least don’t plan to do anything about it.
“We’ve put a very clear marker down in terms of what would be the result if there was an effort to prematurely declare a Palestinian state and [the administration] is implementing what they said they would do,” said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). “It was the right thing to do and they should be implementing it.”
Levin said that he hoped U.S. retaliatory action would slow down the Palestinian drive for recognition, and maintained that the United States would increase its influence by carrying through on its threats. The vote in UNESCO’s General Conference was 107 to 14 in favor of Palestinian membership, with 52 abstentions.
Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told The Cable today he was fine with the cutting off of funds to UNESCO.
“That’s what the law requires. It’s been there for 20 years and whether I support it or not, that’s the law,” he said.
That’s…about the opposite of the answer that I was hoping to hear from these two, Democratic Senators with a long history of working with global organizations and advocating a robust US role. You’d think that after their combined time in the Senate, the house of Congress that actually does get something of a say in foreign policy matters Constitutionally, that they would see that defunding UNESCO and potentially other international institutions represents a step backwards in the projection of American power. I guess not though.
I suppose that it’s understandable to wish that more organizations worked like the Senate, where one voice out of a hundred can grind things to a halt and cut off the flow of funds until they get their way. Also understandable how working in the Senate can lead to only viewing these UN bodies in light of the will of the whole on Palestinian statehood, while managing to block out every other thing that they’re working on that benefits the United States. My respect for the Senate as institution is plummeting by the second.
It’s both slightly comforting and infuriating to hear from the same report that Hill staffers on both sides of the are frustrated that the Obama Administration doesn’t have a way to work around the law or solve the crisis. So rather than offering up legislation to solve the issue that an earlier Congress created, we have Congressional offices hoping that the President can find a way to circumvent them. Right.