Demographic, Environmental,
Security Issues Project

Letter to The New York Times re BOUTROS -GHALI

by Ronald Bleier

NOTE: The following letter was emailed to the editor of the Times. The editors have apparently decided not to print it.

November 15, 1996

To the Editor:

The Times editorial on the threatened U.S veto of a second five year term for U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali ("Choosing the World's Top Diplomat," Nov 14, 1996) properly notes the firestorm at the U.N. over this issue and Washington's political isolation due to its "assault" on the U.N. leader. However, the editorial, as well as Clyde Haberman's article on the same topic ("Squeeze U.N. And the City Feels the Pain," November 8, 1996), miss an opportunity to inform readers as to the most likely reason for the U.S. decision. In addition, the affair raises troubling issues about the hijacking of U.S. domestic and foreign policy.

Both Haberman (who quoted foreign diplomats as characterizing the U.S. move as a "political mugging,") and the Times editorial writer, cited concerns that the Clinton Administration needed to "outflank the Republicans who attack the U.N. for political reasons." But this cover story is not very plausible. Nowhere is it made clear, for example, how replacing one Secretary General with another would affect perceived Republican unhappiness with the U.N..

The Times came much closer to the real reason for the "mugging" when it quoted Senator Paul Simon who came out in support of a second term for Mr. Boutros Ghali (Barbara Crossette ("White House Steps Up Effort To Deny UN Chief a Second Term," November 7, 1996). The retiring Democratic senator suggested that in addition to domestic political reasons, another reason for the U.S. move might be that Boutros-Boutros Ghali "has on rare occasions shown independence from U.S. wishes."

Rare occasions indeed. In fact, there are indications that the critical reason for the U.S. move was the decision taken by Mr. Boutros Ghali in May 1996, to make public a U.N. report that the Israeli shelling of a UN base at Qana in Southern Lebanon was not accidental. The shelling occurred as part of Israel's 16-day barrage of Lebanon in April 1996.

The shelling at Qana claimed the lives of over 100 civilians who had sought safety at the U.N. base from Israeli attacks. Israel claimed the shelling was a mistake but the U.N. investigation found that the evidence was inconsistent with an accidental attack.

At the time, the U.S. did its best to intimidate the Secretary General to keep him from publishing his own report. According to a front page story in the Independent by David Osborne in New York and Eric Silver in Jerusalem ("U.N. Storm as Israel Faces Indictment," May 9, 1996), the U.S. showered the U.N. with calls from the U.S. mission in New York to protest Mr. Ghali's decision to publish the UN report. The Independent story cited a "senior diplomat" who said that the calls were "acrimonious" to the point of including "four letter words." In all likelihood, U.S. threats to block a second term for the Secretary General were made at that time.

The incident is important not merely because of the damage it does to the U.S. in the international community and in Muslim and African countries especially. It also raises troubling issues about the power of special interest lobbies to work against larger U.S. international and domestic interests.

The power of the pro-Israeli lobby should be seen in the context of the power of other special interest lobbies such as the anti-Castro lobby which seem more and more able in recent years to direct U .S. policy-making to their own ends.