Revelations from the latest release of Hillary Clinton’s emails are useful for more than just determining how unqualified she is to handle affairs of state or whether there is a Benghazi smoking gun. We can also glean an insider’s view of just how incompetent the United Nations (UN) has been at helping developing countries recover from disaster—in this case, Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010.
Chelsea Clinton, now vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, had visited Haiti in 2010 to review the development programs the foundation was supporting under the aegis of the UN’s disaster relief mandate. What she saw of the UN’s role clearly horrified her. According to her post-visit memo emailed to her mother and father (who happened at the time to be the secretary of state and the UN special envoy, respectively), “The incompetence is mind-numbing.”
That would be the Chelsea Clinton who was reared by two of the UN’s biggest fans. Bill and Hillary Clinton embrace a cardinal rule in their foreign policy that international organizations must be the default leaders for whatever needs doing around the world—whether or not the Clintons have always observe the rule. Deference to the leading institutions of cosmopolitanism was cool in Democratic circles long before President Obama, and the Clintons embody this principle. After all, Bill Clinton was willing to humble himself before the UN’s archenemy, Sen. Jesse Helms, and do whatever was necessary to get him to release U.S. payments to the UN that were in arrears.
Chelsea Clinton Gets It Right
As someone who oversaw U.S. foreign assistance for Haiti in the George W. Bush administration and has traveled there many times to do what Clinton was doing—reviewing the work of development programs where U.S. tax dollars are at stake—I must say I’m impressed with Clinton’s lengthy commentary released on Monday. It is incisive, blunt, and filled with facts.
It would have been easy to assume that Chelsea Clinton, daughter of a global power couple, was handed a cushy job she didn’t merit at her parent’s global philanthropic institution. It would have been easy to assume her trip was just a chance to do a photo-op. But clearly Chelsea Clinton has come into her own as a leader on development and foreign aid.
She knows what she is talking about; her powers of observation and analysis are quite good. It is worth reading the entire memo to see her accurately determining what is wrong with the UN operation, why it is failing, and what needs to be done to correct the situation. Anyone with experience in development and working with the UN will be nodding “amen.”
Along the way, it is heartening for anyone who cares about Haiti’s plight to read of the positive things she sees in the determination and grit of the Haitians themselves. In all my work I have never seen a nation of such survivors (even surviving through the “help” they get from the international community), and Clinton’s reporting demonstrates that.
Chelsea’s Honest Assessment
But to underscore, what makes this memo so interesting is the brutal honesty where the UN is concerned; the saying of what must not be said publicly (and what you should be careful about saying if your mom is secretary of State and uses an unsecured server that could be exposed.)
We should take the revealing of Chelsea’s thoughts to her parents—as awkward as it is for the Clintons and the UN—as validation for those of us who have been arguing for years that the UN is incapable of doing well with such projects. Conservatives and various other UN critics labor mightily to decry deference to the UN, only to be called cowboys and “go-it-aloners.”
Now someone with unimpeachable credentials on the internationalist Left has said what we have been saying all along. And every time undue plaudits and deference are accorded to the UN, we should bring this memo out of the drawer and wave it about, reminding people that no less than the Clinton name is attached to doubt about the UN.
Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way
Just what, exactly, have we UN critics been saying? Why, what Clinton said bluntly when she told her parents the solution: put someone from the United States in charge with real power to not only coordinate but to direct the operation.
What is not the solution? Deferring to the UN out of some naïve faith in it or misguided idea that the United States should not lead lest it upset sensibilities. But let us be honest, and anyone who has worked overseas on such missions can attest to this: countries in need of help do not want the UN with its bumbling and corruption in charge of stabilization and development efforts. They want real leadership, and they want the United States to do it. Perhaps they are willing, given the context, to have another power at the helm such as another Western country. But they have had enough of the UN’s failures.
I’d like to think that even though she pointed to her father to lead (“The Office of the Special Envoy—i.e., you, Dad—needs authority over the UN and all its myriad parts.”) she would agree with the larger idea that it is the United States that has to lead, or at least a luminary from a Western power imbued with leadership skills and disinterest and armed with real control over the aid dollars that originate not at the UN but in the tax payments of citizens of sovereign countries who generously provide foreign aid.
If we commit foreign-aid dollars, we owe it to our own taxpaying citizens to spend them wisely, and that requires a sound leadership principle; and we owe it to the suffering survivors who have heard our pledge and thus expect to be really helped.
Chelsea Clinton—and her mom’s unauthorized, unsecured, and probably technically illegal personal server—has done us all a favor.