In Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s bestselling Left Behind series (think of it as a Star Wars Trilogy for the religious right–it has sold 35 million copies), one-quarter of the world’s population has mysteriously disappeared, and the most God-fearing among those “left behind” form the Tribulation Force, a troupe of evangelicals who believe the End of Days is nigh and the Secretary General of the United Nations is the Antichrist.
There’s no evidence that George W. Bush owns the leather-bound collector’s edition, but he certainly would sympathize with the T-Force’s distaste for multilateralism. To every UN meeting that has occurred since he assumed the presidency, Bush has sent pit-bull delegations seemingly bent on ravaging both the global spirit as well as hard-fought consensus built throughout the past decade on social justice and human rights, especially women’s rights.
To represent this country to the world, Bush has replaced career diplomats with career ideologues: John Klink, a former chief negotiator for the Vatican, has been on nearly every US delegation to a UN meeting, joined by Jeanne Head of the National Right to Life Committee, Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America–the group founded by Tim LaHaye’s wife, Beverly–and others from the “pro-family” lobby.
The Administration’s international policies on sexual and reproductive health and rights, meanwhile, have been a Christian fundamentalist’s dream. Within hours of the inaugural ball Bush was at his desk reviving the “global gag rule,” which essentially corners humanitarian organizations worldwide into hushing up about abortion. He then stripped the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) of 12.5 percent of its budget, withheld $3 million from the World Health Organization’s Human Reproduction Program and is now earmarking $33 million–almost exactly the amount he took away from the UNFPA–to augment domestic abstinence-until-marriage “sex-ed.” He dispatched his emissaries to throw colossal tantrums at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children, the World Summit on Sustainable Development and, most recently, the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference, bringing all three negotiations to a near-halt over objections to no-brainer public health concepts like “consistent condom use” for HIV prevention and “safe abortion” where it is legal.
Charlotte Bunch, director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, sees this attack as part of a larger assault on internationalism in general. “Their overall goal has always been to weaken the United Nations, in particular its capacity to be a constraining force on the flow of global capital and militarism,” she says. “Attacking reproductive rights is convenient because it also delivers for the right wing.” And it’s low risk. “The Bush Administration has been able to get away with what would be appalling to most moderate Republicans,” explains Jennifer Butler, the Presbyterian Church’s UN representative, who tracks the Christian right’s activities at the UN. Very few people–including members of the press–pay attention to UN meetings, she observes. “Bush can throw a bone to the Christian right and score some points, and he can do that without a cost.”