NEW YORK — John Kerry has taken his hits at this year’s Republican National Convention. But the Democratic presidential nominee came off easy compared with the United Nations.
Not since the convention that nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964 has a gathering of the Republican faithful featured so much UN bashing from so many prominent players in the party. What once was the extremist line of John Birch Society cadres and their allies — “Get US out of the UN,” read the society’s billboards in the 1960s — has become a popular position within the Republican party.
The anti-UN sentiment was stoked by Vice President Dick Cheney in his unilateralism then, unilateralism now, unilateralism forever address to the convention on Wednesday night.
Among the vice president’s many sneering references to Kerry’s internationalism was the declaration that, “History has shown that a strong purposeful America is vital to preserving freedom and keeping us safe, yet time and again Senator Kerry has made the wrong call on national security. Senator Kerry began his political career by saying he would like to see our troops deployed ‘only at the directive of the United Nations.'”
In contrast, Cheney thundered, “George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people.”
That turned out to be one of the biggest applause lines for a speech that formed the centerpiece of the convention’s foreign-policy message.
It was not, however, the biggest anti-UN applause line.
That came from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“If you believe this country, not the United Nations, is the best hope for democracy, then you are a Republican,” the actor who once played Conan the Barbarian told the convention.
The dig at the UN was greeted with thunderous and sustained applause from the delegates gathered in Madison Square Garden, which is located just across the island of Manhattan from the international agency’s headquarters.
Schwarzenegger’s remarks were not so warmly greeted by the Bush administration’s new ambassador to the UN.
Former US Sen. John Danforth, a Missouri Republican, has been trying to patch up relations between the United States and the UN. Those relations soured last year, after the the UN Security Council declined to approve Bush’s plans for invading Iraq. But Bush has been trying to ease tensions since the UN helped the US to install Iraq’s interim government – and, notably, he avoided engaging in explicit UN bashing in his acceptance speech on Thursday night.
Just as notably, however, was the president’s avoidance of any defense of the United Nations.
That task was left to Ambassador Danforth. To his credit, Danforth left little doubt of his view that the UN-bashing at the Republican convention is going to make the job of patching up relations between the US and the UN more difficult.
Responding to a question about Schwarzenegger’s criticism of the UN, and the convention’s enthusiastic response to it, Danforth explained that, “I can only say that when President Bush asked me to do this job, he said that the United Nations is very important, and that this was a very important job.”
The ambassador said that “working through the UN and working with other countries and working on a multilateral basis is clearly the strategy that we have in our country and it is very important.”
Though he is a senior Republican political figure, who in 2000 was seriously considered as a contender for the party’s vice presidential nomination, Danforth was not asked to address the convention.