ED GORDON, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.
On today's roundtable: Senator Bill Frist warns and wants to stop filibustering; the secretary of State says, `Overhaul the UN'; a DNA dragnet and dueling DVDs. Joining us in our bureau here in New York City, E.R. Shipp, a columnist for The New York Daily News; at Spotland Production in Nashville, Tennessee, Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show "Freestyle"; and Joe Perkins, columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, joins us I suspect somewhere in California, though it doesn't say here.
Let's get into a statement that was made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice late last week--on Friday, to be specific. And her suggestion is that the United Nations needs to overhaul, quote, "to survive as a vital force," end quote. It is the strongest criticism yet that we have seen from this administration, yet they have been very critical of the United Nations of late. And many see the choosing of John Bolton, a longtime critic of the organization, to be UN ambassador as yet another slap against the United Nations. What is this saying to people, E.R. Shipp, in your opinion?
Mr. E.R. SHIPP (The New York Daily News): Well, this administration has, as you said, had complicated relations with the UN. And the Republican leadership in Congress for many years has had complicated relations with the United Nations. You don't have a sense that the US makes the United Nations a priority unless it needs help, as when Colin Powell went to try to encourage other nations to join in the invasion of Iraq with misleading information, and they're still trying to recover from that.
By criticizing the UN in the manner in which Secretary of State Rice did, I think she was actually kind of providing cover for Bolton whose nomination has caused a number of problems based on his management style and his previous statements indicating that he doesn't really support the United Nations himself.
Mr. JOE PERKINS (San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, Ed, the United Nations is an important institution and has been since its inception, but I don't think anyone can disagree that it's an institution that's roiled in trouble, I mean, beginning with the oil-for-food scandal in which it finds itself--where, under the UN's administration, Saddam Hussein managed to amass some $17 billion in illicit oil revenue by smuggling, skimming, kickbacks. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general--his son is involved in this scandal.
Then there's also the scandal involving UN peacekeepers who have been systematically, over a period of time, abusing young women--younger and older women for sexual favors. And in Africa--and I'm saying that's not the United States' doing. It's the UN's doing.
GORDON: How much of this--go ahead.
Mr. JEFF OBAFAMI CARR ("Freestyle"): OK. I have a thought on that. You talk about some of the abuses that are going on with the UN. We know that there are definitely reforms that need to take place within the UN, and there have been reforms that have needed all throughout the 60-year history of the organization.
I think what's happening now with Annan, he's trying to make reforms, but they're not going fast enough for the US. The US is in a unique position. They are saying that the UN needs reform, but the US itself needs a lot of reform. And this policeman-of-the-world mentality is getting to be dangerous. I think Algeria's ambassador's summation of the proposal to bring in the outside military intervention--It's called the responsibility to protect--sums it up pretty good. When they talk of allowing for the rescue of people from abuses and from genocide and other things, he asked the question, `Would this responsibility to protect apply to all nations or just to little ones?' I think that when you have inequalities going on between smaller developing nations who need the aids and reforms that are taking place and larger nations that seem to want to be bullies, there are going to be some problems that, I think, go beyond what Condi is talking about.
GORDON: But, Jeff, the fact that, as you suggest there, the United States needs reform, does that allow them--or does that not allow them to honestly suggest if they see improprieties and other things that need to be corrected, the inability to say something?
Mr. CARR: Yeah, I think it's hard for you to say things when you can't point a finger. It's hard to throw a rock when you're in a glass house. I think especially when you have set the tone, as I believe E.R. said, for sending up a smoke screen when, on one hand, you say you want to have reforms and you want to work with the UN and you want the UN to work, but do you want the UN to work for you? Or do you want to work for the UN, for the common good of all the nations provided, or in...
GORDON: Joe Perkins, let me ask you this, the idea that Jeff is suggesting there--and we do see it. It seems like every other day you do get contradictory messages. At times, the UN is brought in, for instance, on the watch on Cuba. For instance, the United States is saying, `Hey, great job, keep watching,' yet we see the criticism. Are we playing a double-edged sword here?
Mr. PERKINS: Well, I think it's appropriate to do that. When the UN comports itself admirably, as it has done in some cases, then the US should congratulate the UN and commend the UN. But when they fall short, which they've done with respect to the oil-for-food scandal, with respect to the sex scandal, then I think it's incumbent upon the US and other nations to make that plain as well.
I mean, let's be frank about this. The people of the United States provide more than 20 percent of the UN's funding. I think we have a right to expect the UN to be accountable for the tens of millions of dollars that the US subsidizes its agencies. Moreover, I mean, they're housed free of charge on Manhattan's East Side, so is it too much to expect that the UN would police itself, police the people who work for the UN around the world? I don't think so.
GORDON: E.R. Shipp...
Mr. SHIPP: Well...
GORDON: ...let me ask you, before you pick up that point, Joe brings up an interesting suggestion there, and that has always been the rub with the United Nations, that perhaps in what is supposed to be a house of equals, the United States has never, quite frankly, been equal. They've always been top dog.
Mr. SHIPP: Yeah, the United States thinks of itself, as someone said, the leader of the world, I suppose. Among equals, it's the greatest one of all, I suppose. But the United Nations can only function well when the nations of the world do come together and when they do live up to their pledges of what they are going to do within the United Nations. Often, the United States is one of those nation states that does not pay its pledges on time, it withholds money to try to browbeat the United Nations into its version of reforms, and it annoys the rest of the world community.