As Americans voted Tuesday in what may well be a referendum on Bush Administration policies at home and abroad, US Ambassador John Bolton once again breached UN protocol in New York, this time by prematurely announcing the appointment of former Washington Times editor Josette Shiner to head the World Food Program. Shiner, currently under secretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs, is tasked with pushing American business interests abroad. (A longtime member of Washington Times owner Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, Shiner left the paper in 1997 and the Church in 1996.
The Bush Administration’s practice of favoring of ideological and dynastic loyalty over competence was responsible for FEMA’s abysmal performance during Hurricane Katrina; with Shiner’s appointment, it may well contribute to similar debacles worldwide. Shiner’s main qualification for the Bush appointment was the many years she spent insuring that Moon’s Washington Times flew the flag for the most atavistic brands of conservatism in the nation’s capital. The other main candidate for the position was another American, the experienced and competent Tony Banbury, head of WFP in Asia.
Americans have long regarded the World Food Program as their own–and with some justification. It was conceptualized by the Eisenhower Administration in 1960 and launched in 1962 as a means of recycling American agricultural surpluses, and because the Kennedy Administration was at loggerheads with Dr. Binay Ranjan Sen, then director of the Food and Agricultural Organization.
The WFP has done some good work, regardless of the marred altruism of its origins, but Oxfam and other critics have raised serious questions about the economic effects on local agricultural viability of throwing free subsidized US food surpluses into countries. Those questions are likely to remain unanswered as Shiner advances the interests of US agribusiness.
Technically, the UN Secretary General makes all these appointments, but until recently, the international body always appointed whomever the US President wanted. Another Bush appointee, Christopher Burnham, who is UN under secretary general for management, overlooked the oath that an international civil servant such as himself takes on appointment to give up national loyalties and actually thanked Bush for his appointment in 2004. “I came here at the request of the White House….My primary loyalty is to the United States of America,” Burnham told the Washington Post.
As conservatives in Congress have complained about managerial reforms at the UN, the one issue on which they stay resolutely silent is the patronage system by which the five permanent members of the UN Security Council control the UN’s senior positions, setting the customary low standards for all other countries seeking nepotistic appointments for their nationals. Britain and France have generally named technically competent and often, for them, disappointingly independent people for the positions. But the United States has largely considered UN posts to be an extension of the presidential spoils system. These positions are not subject to senatorial confirmation, so the White House can appoint anyone it likes.