Reluctant And Uncertain Ethics Observations On The U.S., Israel, And United Nations Squabble

International relations is an ethical morass, and the Israel/Palestinian mess is an ethical morass inside an ethical morass. In international relations, gaffes turn out to be masterstrokes, and vice-versa, and my usual rejection of consequentialism doesn’t always fit. It is politics on steroids, and a never ending Ethics Train Wreck. Thus I approach the topic of the events that roiled the U.N. right before Christmas with trepidation. There were obviously ethical principles in play here, but beyond that, my certainty recedes like my hairline in 1976.

The background: On December 18, UN ambassador Nikki Haley vetoed an Arab-proposed Security Council resolution that rebuked President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and start the process of moving the US embassy there. All other 14 Security Council members supported the anti-American resolution, including U.S. allies Great Britain, France, and Japan. Then the UN General Assembly went on to pass a non-binding resolution disapproving of the Trump administration’s decision. Several more U.S. allies failed to vote with the U.S., including Canada and Australia, which abstained.  Before the general assembly vote, Haley announced the US was “taking names” of those voting against the US. and afterward, the U.S. held a party where the only countries invited were Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Togo, all of which voted with the U.S.

Finally, Haley announced that the U.S. had negotiated quarter billion dollar cut to the UN’s annual budget, saying  “We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked.”

1 Was it responsible for the U.S. to condemn the actions of the nations, including its allies, that voted for the resolution in the Security Council and the the General Assembly?

The U.S. should be strong rather than weak, and must stand up for core principles. It is beyond argument that much of the hostility to the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem was based on anti-Israel bigotry, which flourishes in many of the nations that voted against Israel and the U.s., notably France. The Obama policy was to generally allow the U.N. to direct the U.S., with Obama “leading from behind,” an oxymoron that was a euphemism for “not leading at all.” Many of the nations opposing the U.S. are Arab nations, Muslim nations, and nations who are worried about unrest in their large Muslim populations.

The assertion of a false moral equivalency between Israel and the Palestinians among a majority of the world (and a lot of Democrats) should not be enabled. The Palestinians still officially refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, for example, said that “The status of Jerusalem should be determined through a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians} and that that Jerusalem must “ultimately be the shared capital” of Palestine and Israel. Yes, that will work well, with the Palestinians still refusing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

The status of Jerusalem, like the status of Palestine, is what is technically known as “all messed up.” In 1949, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, proclaimed Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal” and “sacred” capital, saying that only hostilities against Israel  had “compelled” its  leadership to establish the seat of Government in Tel Aviv.  “For the State of Israel, he said, “there has always been and always will be one capital only – Jerusalem the Eternal. In 1950 all branches of the Israeli government—legislative, judicial, and executive—were moved to Jerusalem, except that the Ministry of Defense, stayed in Tel Aviv. At the time of Ben Gurion’s proclamations Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan and thus only West Jerusalem was proclaimed Israel’s capital. Then, in 1980, Israel passed the  Jerusalem Law, which declared Jerusalem the “complete and united” capital of Israel. In response, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 478 that same year, declaring  the law  “a violation of international law.”  “null and void” and that it “must be rescinded forthwith.” Member states were told to withdraw their diplomatic representation from Jerusalem, and 22 of the 24 countries that previously had their embassy there moved back to Tel Aviv.  In 1995, under President Clinton, the United States Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which required, subject to conditions, that its embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Whether the U.S. tactics will work out well or not is a matter of conjecture, and impossible to know. Are they ethical? Sure they are, compared to the alternative.

2. Was Haley’s Trumpian, tit-for-tat, we take this personally and you’ll regret it rhetoric responsible and ethical?

No. This is diplomacy, and her rhetoric was undiplomatic. It was also unnecessary. The U.S. could have signaled its displeasure without threats, and levied retribution, if that was deemed strategically wise, at the proper time. Again, signalling strength is always in the U.S.’s best interests. Using that strength like a bully is bad form, however. Haley’s point, and Trump’s, that the U.S. is not going to sit back and accept being slapped around by the organization and nations that depend on it is valid. This was not the ethical way to make that point.

3. What about the party?

Holding the party to snub Britain, France and the rest was petty, and conveyed weakness, not strength.

4. Should the U.S. condition its financial support of the U.N on the members’ political support in matters like the Jerusalem controversy?

Obviously that would be unethical, essentially making the U.N. a bribed puppet and robbing it of what little respect and integrity it has left. However, the United States pays a disproportionate share of U.N. expenses. This made sense after the Second World War, when the U.S. was in Marshall Plan mode and there was a naive belief that the U.N. would turn into something more than it has. That faith was briefly rewarded in Korea, but since then the organization has become increasingly less helpful to U.S. interests, as well as corrupt.

The U.S. should pay a proportional share of U.N expenses. If the organization wants more, then it should provide something in return. Pay for a premium membership. get premium benefits. President Trump’s position—that paying premium prices to have the regular members spit on your shoes—is correct.

The U.S. should have cut its support when the U.N. refused to back up its own resolution on Iraq and provide unified opposition with the U.S. against Saddam, who was profiting under the table from lucrative deals with Russia, France, and U.N. officials as his own people starved. The organization is like one of those Westerns like “True Grit,” where a once skilled and powerful law man has declined into old age and drunkenness, but there’s still a chance that he will rise to the occasion and save the day when things look bleakest. Rooster Cogburn came through when it counted most; I don’t have similar confidence that the U.N will. But somehow you can’t just give up on the old sot, because there’s always a chance that he he will rise to the occasion.

42 thoughts on “Reluctant And Uncertain Ethics Observations On The U.S., Israel, And United Nations Squabble

  1. The UN is so…. Look…

    It’s 2014, Russia invades Ukraine and annexes the Crimean peninsula. UN Resolution 68/262 is tabled, which was a non-binding resolution condemning the Russian aggression specifically concerned with the “Territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

    This motion passes, but was vetoed by Russia, 100 nations approved, 11 rejected, 58 abstained, and 24 were absent.

    Fast forward three years. America makes good on something they’ve said they were going to do for twenty years and makes more than overtures at moving their embassy to Jerusalem. The UN reads a motion to denounce the move.,

    The motion passes, but is vetoed by America. 128 nations approve, 9 reject, and 35 abstain and 21 are absent.

    The UN dug deep down and found more condemnation for America moving it’s own embassy to the capital city of Israel than they found when Russia invaded Ukraine. And three years later? Russia is still in Crimea. Three years from now? America’s embassy will still be in Jerusalem.

    The UN has voted on dozens of different resolutions for Israeli “human rights abuses” since the 50’s and over that same stretch of time, they’ve never bothered to even once table a single motion of condemnation over Saudi Arabia’s ties to terrorism, or their own human right’s abuses. I suppose though, this shining bastion of Arabic modernity is approaching the 20th century now though. Why, just this last year they said they might consider issuing driver’s licenses to women! Can you imagine?! What’s next? Such a stunning and brave new world.

    The UN is a play, pantomime of governance, where well dressed puppets spend entire days huffing their own farts to avoid thinking about how little they and their blue berets really matter.

    • The UN is a play, pantomime of governance, where well dressed puppets spend entire days huffing their own farts to avoid thinking about how little they and their blue berets really matter.

      In my view, that’s giving them way too much credit. The UN is a place the self-important and well-connected go to look down their noses at everyone else.

    • Taking actions on the world stage that make the US appear weak and petty destabilizes the world stage, Which in my book is unethical.

      • I actually disagree with Jack on that one. I think that there are people who think that they can basically do what they want when it comes to America with relative impunity. And with great reason, after 8 years of Obama-esque red lines, who would take the threat of American action seriously?

        I think that so long as America follows through, that this sends the kind of message that is universal from toddlers to world leaders: I’m not going to threaten more than I’m willing to do. See? This time I threatened you and followed through? Sure I was unreasonable! Sure if cost me something! Sure I maybe looked a little dumb! But I did what I said I was going to do. And now, I’m saying I’m about to do something again. You want to take the chance I”m bluffing now? You feel lucky… punk?”

        I’m oversimplifying, and it’s childish… But like Jack said, if it’s effective, it almost becomes ethical by default. If America uses this excuse to stop bribing her allies into not hating her (which has never really worked anyway) by shoveling cash into whomever’s pocket will take it, AND sends a message that America will stand by the lines she draws in the sand…. Well.. It’s hard to spin that into anything less than a win.

        • This is a reasonable retort. The OC I was initially replying to seemed to be accepting Jacks premise and questioning how he drew the conclusion from it. You are saying you do not recognize the premise.

        • I think you have this 180 degrees wrong. As a foreigner ( in one of your closest allies) I fear that there are Americans (like you?) who think you can basically do anything YOU want with relative impunity. I can quite understand those who might think they need half a dozen nuclear tipped ICBMs with some chance of inflicting some damage – just so you pay attention. It would of course be suicide for them but you wouldn’t escape completely unscathed.

          What alternative is there for those who fear your jack boot? (I don’t by the way …… at least for the moment.)

          • “I can quite understand those who might think they need half a dozen nuclear tipped ICBMs with some chance of inflicting some damage – just so you pay attention.”

            If that were even remotely the reason that anyone, anywhere was stockpiling such weapons, then I could concur.

            The role of the U.S. has basically been to both fund and acquiesce the wishes of the United Nations for several decades. I don’t understand your application of the expression “jackboots” unless you think that the Nazis rolled into Poland just to hand out free poerogies and hugs.

          • It’s funny, I don’t think you got a single thing right in a comment where you accused me of being 180 degrees wrong. Let’s unpack this.

            “I think you have this 180 degrees wrong”

            I mean, you can think whatever you like, lots of people think lots of stupid things.

            “As a foreigner ( in one of your closest allies) I fear that there are Americans (like you?) who think you can basically do anything YOU want with relative impunity.”

            Well… To start, I’m Canadian, and have never made a secret of it, so all the assumptions you base on my being an American are wrong.

            And let’s just get back to what we’re talking about here. 128 nations wanted to send a message to America, that where they as a sovereign nation wanted to put their own embassy in a nation that wanted them to move their embassy to the location they planned to move, was unacceptable to them. This was, again, 28 nations more than those that could find condemnation for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. America’s ambassador said that America would be taking names and there would be consequences to that rebuke, and then pulled funding for the UN, which I’m sure will pull another round of condemnation, if a less formal one.

            I don’t think America can do *anything* it wants with impunity, but there’s a material difference between being Team America, World Police, and deciding where your embassies are and how your budget is aligned. If we’re at all unclear: I do think that EVERY nation has the right to put its embassy where it wants, contingent on the host nation, and that EVERY nation can set its own budget.

            “I can quite understand those who might think they need half a dozen nuclear tipped ICBMs with some chance of inflicting some damage – just so you pay attention.”

            The hell are you even talking about? Nuclear tipped ICBMs? Again, let’s look at the situation we’re talking about: America is saying “We’ve paid more than our fair share for a very long time, and this is what we get for it? Don’t bite the hand that feeds, or maybe we stop feeding you.” You want to grab someone by the short and curlies? You threaten their wallet. You want to be an isolated hermit nation and the brink of poverty and starvation? You play the “I’m crazy and I have guns” card.

            “What alternative is there for those who fear your jack boot? (I don’t by the way …… at least for the moment.)”

            Again…. Let’s look back to what we’re talking about. America withholding money from the UN and UN nations, after those nations voted to rebuke the US for moving their embassy…. deserve Nazi allusions.

            Yeah. That’s reasonable. You’re an idiot, and you should hide your head in a bag.

        • I don’t think Jack was disagreeing with the decisions themselves, but the manner in which they were taken (like throwing a party, or saying we will remember how you vote). All that the US did could have still been accomplished without the grandstanding.

          • In the alternate reality where most of the UN delegates reside, being excluded from a party hurts personally. As it was intended to.

            You might be surprised how much of UN policy is personal to those delegates, even at the expense of their own nation’s interests. Many of them make astounding fortunes while serving.

            Kind of like Congress.

    • I agree. #2 seems fine. There is no problem stating we are dissatisfied with how are allies respond. And, saying we will remember does not seem a threat as much as a call for loyalty.

      #3, however, makes #2 look bad. It looks petty. Tell your friends what is important to you and that you expect their support. If you then show them you are not inviting them to a pity party afterward, you have only proven to them that they have escaped the 7th Grade. Better to say nothing more, do nothing more, and bide your time.


  2. Well Guademala, Honduras, and Paraguay are moving their embassies to Jerusalem, not that it matters much. Could it be that they are hoping for more US aid?

    • Honestly… It makes a certain amount of sense. Israeli heads of state are in Jerusalem. The current situation of having embassies in Tel Aviv and heads of state in Jerusalem would be like having embassies in Fredericksburg while all the heads of state are in DC.

  3. But drawing any kind of a comparison between the UN and Rubin “Rooster” Cogburn ( The Duke for crying out loud) is just wrong. Who can see the UN saying “Fill your hand, you son-of-a-b***h! through teeth clenched on the reins? Not gonna happen.

    Sometimes you just have to plant the flag.

  4. So sad. Would it have been so hard to say : “We take your views seriously, particularly those of our many friends who on this occasion have not been able to support us”.?

    So silly. Trump says “”We don’t care” ( that the international community doesn’t support us.). But the US still wants to mobilise the ‘international community’ to pressurise North Korea, Iran and other enemies.

    So depressing. “Jaw jaw” has to be better than “war war” even when you don’t get your own way.

    So ridiculous. No easy mnemonic for the new coalition, G(uatamela), H(onduras), (I)srael, M(arshall Islands), M(icronesia), N(auru), P(alau), T(oga) and the U(S). What shall we call it?

  5. I disagree strongly with the US’ threat delivered via Nikki Haley.
    Your friends can disagree with you and still be your friends, or at least they should be able to! Isn’t this the situation that has been discussed multiple times on this blog over the last eighteen months with reference to the US political fiasco?

    Your enemy won’t tell you when they believe you are wrong, he’ll just sit back and gloat quietly to himself. If no one tells the king the truth how will he ever know it?

    Personally, I am disappointed that Australia wussed out on voting with the US. Not because we have stood shoulder to shoulder for one hundred years and not because we hide under the US military umbrella like so many others, but because it’s the right decision.

    Unfortunately, our major conservative party, strangely named the Liberal Party, has moved so far left that it is now virtually indistinguishable from the commun … sorry, the major leftist party, the Labour Party.

    • ”…moved so far left that it is now virtually indestinguishable from the commun … sorry, the major leftist party, the Labour Party.”

      I find that hard to believe. What you seem to be saying is that those who say they have a conservative platform, and hold to conservative values, really are the Junior Partners to the reigning Liberalism? I find this hard to believe. Sources please!

      I mean this is outrageous! I thought they held to ‘principles’, I thought they defined principles. Oh dear, oh dear, I feel faint! Something inside is quivering. Help, water, help, reality check. Help!

      OK, I feel a little better now. ::: hard gulp ::: I can be strong, really I can.

      Oh God, Oh God! It’s starting again! I just came across this:

      I’m going to lie down now, maybe never to get up. Maybe I should never have swollowed that Red Pill?!

  6. Since my general contention is that we live in a network of overt lies and are complicity in them, and since I am critical of the supposedly ‘conservative’ position and ethical stance, and noticing at every turn ‘lying narratives’ that are spun and then repeated at every turn, I am inclined to pay less regard to the specific incident (the attempt to muscle a way to recognition of Jerusalem as capital; the ridiculous antics of the United States UN rep) and turn back to the most important aspect, and the one that is being lied about: The entire problem of Israel. Israel is an illegal state and is involved in amazingly terrible crimes. (I do understand that it has been recognized as a state and thus has the rights of a state, I speak more of the founding as illegal in itself). But a series of lies and misrepresentations have been concocted by lying and devious men to cover over their crimes. Therefor, in order to see clearly into this situation, one is ethically, philosophically, rationally and intellectually bound to cut through the miasma and lay the truth out as an primary datum of perception.

    Thinking this over, and thinking of this in relation to America and its neo-conservative crimes and errors (the abuse of the US by Jewish factions and a whole series of devastating, murderous wars —- such as the US attack on Iraq with half a million or more killed), and considering as well the very shaky foundations of Israel in a moral sense, I find this a perfect example with which to illustrate a destructive and dangerous American hypocricy. One can study this as an example of how lies and lie-systems function. One becomes complicit in the structure of the lie, in this case a specific historical lie, which then seems to become a pattern of complicity. In order to prop up the first lie, the core lie, one has to pile other lies on top of it. It just goes on and on until, at some point or another, the consequences of deception but especially self-deception run into a wall and go ‘splat’. Then comes the reckoning I guess. This paradigm that I have described obviously occurs in the life of a given person, and each one can refer to instances where ‘reckoning’ has had to be lived. On a personal level it is always painful. In a geo-political context, and in the context of a very complex Jewish history with tragedy and pain at every juncture, the hooror here is that those who enable these lies to become established, and aid and abet, unconsciously work in the direction of a disaster. That is to say that they work in the direction of establishing the conditions that lead to a reaction which will turn out badly indeed for Israel and Jewry.

    The entire world (except those very contrary Micronesians and the stubborn Togans!) are opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the deathly crimes against the inhabitants, because it began as and was seen as a crime. In America (and some other places and cultural circles) the truth about Israel and the late conquest is a strange ‘feature of perception’, a cultural myth, a view which must be ‘believed in’ similar to a religious tenet. America is truly indoctrinated in the full sense of the word, and this provides an example of when indoctrination is employed to wed a person’s ‘sense of self’ with a specific tenet and in this case a complex of lies. In this way ‘the very self’ gets implicated in the network and cluster of lying and ‘the self’, to uphold itself, must resist any contrary perspective. If it does not the ‘self’ undergoes stress and strain; the worldpicture is assaulted; and the self finds itself in existential chaos.

    At the level of a State, and within the context of history, when a criminal state establishes itself it is like an organism that in order to keep living must do whatever must be done to ensure its survival. As a modernly founded state, having been established on such bizarre foundations and through such bizarre events, Israel and perceptions/assertions about it are bound up in myths and lies. These function together alongside another element: will. The battle is to survive and ‘ethics’ is not a consideration. It is a prime example of ‘will to power’. How odd it is that the US has allied its fate with that of modern Israel. The ‘myth’ makes this an attractive, even a necessary, option and choice. But the reality and the truth are so very different indeed. For this reason the entire situation is ‘instructive’, that is if one is capable of learning from tragedy. I suggest that these motions by the US will contribute to the creation of a painful tragedy. But again, systems of lies and complicity seem always to lead to the same result, sooner or later.

    • See, then you go off down this path… this is why we can’t have nice things!

      Exactly when in history was there a nation or people called ‘Palestine?’ This is a made up problem, fostered by those with something to gain (perhaps on both sides, but still) and could have been settled if one side recognised the other at all.

      Israel did not attack her neighbors; she was attacked. Israel does not wish genocide on anyone, but a great many wish it on her. Israelis are under siege in their own country 24/7/365, yet they are the bad guys. That’s not even bullshit, it’s horseshit.

      The ‘jews’ may be behind a great many mechanizations: this is not unusual. Any people will attempt to excel, sometimes at a cost to others. This might be deplorable, but it is the human condition.

      Why should this one race, down through the ages, be singled out and persecuted again and again? One would begin to believe there is something spiritual involved…

      (sigh) Guess it is MY day to tilt at windmills

      • Miko Peled, and Israeli American, has some videos up on YouTube where he speaks about his understanding of things. I wonder if your ideas would change after listening to his discourse?

        The question you ask is … vast. This is not the place for such a discussion. It is too hot a topic.

  7. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been debated more than a few times on this forum. It’s a thorny one that’s not going to be resolved any time soon, both because of the intractability of the Palestinian side and because there are too many powerful people on both sides with their fortunes and futures invested in the conflict continuing to simmer, but not boil over.

    The United Nations has time and again proven itself to be utterly worthless, simply a place for the poor and the tyrannical to punch above their weight class and the possibility of getting anything done to break on the wall of Soviet vetoes. Anyplace that allows someone like Yasir Arafat to address the assembled delegates with a gun on his hip, or Hugo Chavez to tell the assembly that he still smells brimstone from the presence of GWB is worthless, while putting nations that have execrable human rights records on committees charged with examining that very issue is worthless.

    The institution did stand up in Korea, but only because the Soviets made the mistake of boycotting. The institution did back us in Kuwait as the USSR was disintegrating- no thanks to Jimmy Carter’s attempt to torpedo his own nation and no thanks to Yemen and Jordan, who cast two very expensive “no” votes in the Security Council, resulting in the US cutting off aid (though not publicly). The institution has utterly failed otherwise, including its pointless resolution after 9/11, which resulted in nothing concrete (ISAF was led by NATO and overwhelmingly composed of soldiers either from the NATO nations or from obvious US allies like Australia). The US is fully within its rights to decide not to fully underwrite this worthless institution and to make its continued presence in New York untenable – a little bit at a time. Like it or not, giving the institution 6 months to pack up and leave isn’t in the cards, nor would it be wise.

    That said, Nikki Haley’s public bullying and shaming of ally and neutral alike was both undiplomatic and probably counterproductive. It would be one thing for her to pull a James Baker and tell a few nations behind the scenes that their votes against Israel were going to cost them U.S. aid. It would be one thing for her to call her UK, French, and Japanese counterparts on the carpet, make them explain themselves, ask exactly whose side they were on, and ask point blank whether we could count on them or not when the fan gets hit, the point out that an ally we can’t count on is an ally whose opinion doesn’t matter much to us. If the UN ambassadors were resistant to meeting with her, then she could tell them if they didn’t Trump or Tillerson could summon those nation’s ambassadors in DC and ask them the same questions, and the meeting was likely to be a lot less cordial. Now the opportunity to make some kind of progress by all of that is lost.

    Frankly, the US needs to look more to organizations like NATO to get anything done, and treat the U.N. as just a back door. I knew there was a reason I threw those orange boxes at Halloween away.

    • I do not wee why we provide foreign aid at all, especially to those who would not spit on us if we were on fire.

      A friend we have to pay for is not a friend. An enemy we give money to is no less our enemy. What is accomplished with this practice given the money issues we have at home?

      • People have friends. Nations have interests. We once had a VERY strong interest in making sure that other nations chose “Brand US” over “Brand Soviet,” which is why we doled out money like blueberries. We still have a very strong interest in encouraging other nations to not choose “Brand Jihad” or “Brand Pink Tide.”

        That’s why we prop up the emerging democracies in eastern Europe, some of whom, like Poland, are on the way to becoming valuable and even powerful allies. That’s why we pour money into Israel. That’s why we back the Gulf states despite their lousy human rights policies and unappreciative attitudes. That’s why both southern continents are full of “observers” and we back the few pro-US governments there despite some of them being morally gray.

        What’s accomplished is that we keep trade moving, we keep access to markets open, we keep access to military bases overseas in case the you-know -what hits the fan and we need to intervene, and we keep the all-important oil flowing. We lose any of these, and the monetary issues we have now will become much greater.

  8. The latest fiasco on the floor of the organization that WE fund (22% of UN funding is OURS, the next biggest contributor provides 10%) and that WE host should be just one more reason to BAIL completely from the UN.

    We cannot tolerate the kind of incapacity to enforce parliamentary procedure on the floor, ESPECIALLY when it is a direct stick in the eye of OUR representative…

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