The New York Times has a scare-mongering story today suggesting that the U.S. cutoff of aid to UNESCO, in retaliation for its admittance of the Palestinian Authority as a member, will hurt U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Count me as unconvinced.
The article quotes UNESCO’s former chief in Iraq saying that the UN agency “has a positive image, certainly in Iraq,” while the U.S. as “an invading force in Iraq,” has “some negative connotations, even if it gave Iraqis something they hankered for. UNESCO doesn’t come with that negative imagery.” Perhaps UNESCO has bought some goodwill with Iraqis, but the UN as a whole has a terrible image in that country–it is associated with the corrupt oil-for-food program it administered in the 1990s, which starved ordinary Iraqis while allowing Saddam Hussein to continue building his palaces. It was no coincidence the UN headquarters in Baghdad was one of the first major targets attacked by suicide bombers in August 2003.
It is also possible that some of the UNESCO programs in Afghanistan and Iraq do some good–judiciary training sounds like a worthwhile undertaking. But I am dubious about other examples cited in the article, e.g.:
Among affected programs in Iraq are work with the Iraqi National Water Council, in particular to perform a groundwater survey using NASA satellites and American technology, to create a database of Iraq’s underground water supplies. Financing of $800,000 to $1 million was to come from the State Department to the Army Corps of Engineers, with a contribution from the Iraqi government of about $500,000 and about $7 million from the European Union for projects resulting from the study. But everything has been put on hold, officials said.
Why on earth is the U.S. funding a water survey in a country that is fast becoming one of the world’s largest oil producers? Iraqis can afford to survey their own water supplies if they so choose. The case for American involvement in Iraq (especially military involvement) is not that we can provide charitable handouts to Iraqis; our presence is needed to ensure its political and security stability–something UNESCO cannot do. Indeed, too much of the aid doled out by organizations like UNESCO wind up going into the hands of corrupt and shady operators, thus undermining people’s confidence in their own government.
Iraq and Afghanistan can live without UNESCO; I am concerned they cannot live without U.S. troops.