Iraq to America: U.N. vote shows the world detests your "criminal tyranny." Plus: Walsh on Whitman: Walk, Christie, walk. And the president successfully talks up the energy crisis.

Published May 7, 2001 9:04PM (EDT)

It's all Grecian to me

Oh the shame! American leaders are still battling over who's to blame for last Thursday's U.N. vote to kick the U.S. off its Geneva-based Human Rights Commission. It marks the first time the U.S. hasn't been represented on the commission since its inception in 1947. France, Austria and Sweden all beat out the U.S. for the three slots open to Western nations. But the real diplomatic black eye was probably the reality dose of seeing such champions of human rights as Pakistan and Sierra Leone represented, when we're not.

If it weren't for the vocal defense of allies like the United Kingdom and Canada, it might seem as if the entire world is gloating at our international comeuppance, after years of American muscle-flexing in the General Assembly.

Among our enemies -- whether "states of concern" or "strategic competitors" -- the Iraqi and Chinese press were absurdly self-congratulatory. Iraq's al-Jumhuriya daily quoted an Iraqi government spokesman this way: "No doubt that Iraq's heroic stance in denying the American criminal tyranny has now become an example followed by many countries resisting the detestable American domination. ... Those countries, which voted in favor of ousting the U.S. from the UNHRC, must have taken into consideration the American bloody record in violating the rights of the Red Indians and the black people in America, in addition to criminal foreign policies through wars and imposition of unjust embargoes against several world countries. "

And in China, where leaders were recently roused by the spy plane standoff, the People's Daily argues the ouster didn't come soon enough. "The U.S. election loss shows that America's long-standing pursuit of confrontation and hegemonism in international relations has aroused widespread anger ... Its double standard on human rights issues has made it unqualified to critique the human rights situation in the world and among other nations."

But even Saudi Arabia, generally a staunch ally of the U.S., took swipes at Washington. "This setback has stripped the United States of its pretense of being the guardian of human rights and democracy around the world," opined the newspaper Al-Riyadh. Of course, U.S. has a two-pronged policy of promoting business with Saudi Arabia while at the same time criticizing its monarchy for oppression, much the way it operates with China, which might explain the gloating at the U.S. humiliation on the issue.

No such sentiments are shared by our neighbors up north. "The result is a serious setback for the cause of human rights," states an editorial in the Montreal Gazette. "The United States was a strong and principled voice in denouncing rights abuses around the world. The decision to exclude it looks like a deliberate attempt to silence an outspoken critic. The absence of the United States will undermine the credibility of the agency and reduce the pressure on offending nations to clean up their acts."

More surprising, even the Bush-bashing UK Guardian "blasted the U.N. vote. "If the UN truly thinks that human rights are better guarded by Pakistan, Sudan and Sierra Leone (to name but three successful candidates) then it's destined for deserved derision. ... What was wrong about the human-rights ballot was that it was secret and sneaky and a touch cowardly."

-- Daryl Lindsey

Rant: Walk, Christie, walk

Bushed! is only two weeks old, but already we're feeling the need to revisit old material. In our inaugural column we suggested that Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman ought to resign to protest her inability to do her job: protecting the environment in the face of Bush administration efforts to please its backers in the energy industry.

Whitman, you'll recall, was humiliated by Bush in early February, when he reversed a campaign promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions barely a week after Whitman told European leaders he would move ahead on that front. Then came her Earth Day embarrassment, when she told reporters that the top-level Energy Task Force she's a part of would recommend not drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- only to be contradicted by Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, who attributed Whitman's statement to "confusion."

This week comes news that Whitman may be on the losing end of another environmental battle -- whether to push forward federal lawsuits to force coal-fired energy plants to install modern pollution controls. The EPA chief (who's for them) is said to face opposition from heavy hitters Vice President Dick Cheney and Energy Secretary Spence Abraham, who are sympathetic to coal industry cries that such lawsuits would stifle their ability to produce power. The issue may even surface in Cheney's Energy Task Force report, which goes to the printer Monday night. The New York Times reports that coal industry leaders are pushing to include restrictions on EPA lawsuits among the task force recommendations.

Whitman has some resources in this fight, most notably the lawsuits that have already been filed, and she joined several of them as New Jersey governor. But the smart money has to bet against her, since she hasn't yet won a battle against Cheney and his energy industry friends. Here's hoping that Whitman will either win a round or else muster some backbone and walk if she's humiliated a third time in barely 100 days at the hands of Cheney and energy industry polluters.

-- Joan Walsh

Poll watch

The country is beginning to heed the energy crisis call of the Bush administration, according to a recent poll by Newsweek. The survey, conducted May 3-4, found that 53 percent of Americans now believe that the nation is in the midst of an energy crisis. Furthermore, 52 percent are willing to put the discovery of new sources of energy ahead of protecting the environment, while 41 percent still want the environment put first. That's a shift from Newsweek's April poll, in which 49 percent placed the priority on energy exploration and 44 percent favored environmental protection.

Though that's an indication that Bush and Cheney have convinced the public that there is a crisis, the poll shows they have not been as successful at convincing the American people that the administration has the best qualifications to solve the crisis. When asked what effect the president's and vice president's experience in the oil industry is having on their policies, 50 percent say that it makes them likely to side with industry over consumers. But 44 percent think that their backgrounds make Bush and Cheney better suited than they otherwise might be to formulate a workable national energy plan.

Americans also disagree with the administration about who's to blame for the current problems with energy availability. While 62 percent believe that the Clinton administration's policies contributed a lot or somewhat to the "crisis," 85 percent say that domestic energy producers are exploiting the current climate to overcharge consumers for their products.

This poll has a 3-point margin of error.

Bush job approval

  • 57 percent, Newsweek, May 3-4
  • 57 percent, Los Angeles Times, April 21-26
  • 56 percent, CBS News/New York Times, April 23-25
  • 56 percent, NBC News, Wall Street Journal, April 21-23
  • 62 percent, CNN/USA Today/Gallup, April 20-22
  • 63 percent, ABC News/Washington Post, April 19-22
  • 63 percent, Fox News, April 18-29

    -- Alicia Montgomery

    Daily line

    "It's very bad for those people who are suffering under tyranny around the world, and it is an outrage."
    -- Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor, on the United States' having been voted off the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

    Bush buzz

    The administration and other conservatives are furious that America has been kicked off the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The move was widely seen as an expression of the frustration that America's allies feel toward Bush's foreign affairs inexperience and diplomatic missteps.

    The president's missile defense plan is considered part of the cause of the international tension. An administration official has gone so far as to lash out against British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has tentatively backed the missile defense plan, calling his support too tepid.

    Another inter-administration showdown may be looming over environmental policy. Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Todd Whitman has signaled her willingness to pursue Clinton administration lawsuits aimed at cleaning up coal- and electricity-producing facilities. But Vice President Cheney and other members of the White House Energy Commission want those suits stopped.

    Bush may get little reward for splitting the difference on the previous administration's last-minute rules limiting logging in national forests. The president's decision to leave Clinton's order in place, but shift more decision making to local and state authorities, has left timber interests grumbling about intrusive regulation without convincing environmentalists that Bush has any interest at all in keeping the forest areas road-free.

    Though the two oilmen running the country are naturally more sympathetic to the energy industry, from Day 1, the Bush administration has sought to guarantee that its former colleagues feel completely at ease with the White House. Before the inauguration, top officials on the Bush team met with energy industry leaders at the American Petroleum Institute in Washington to get the full policy wish list from that sector, and several top industry lobbyists have made their way into sensitive positions in the administration. Environmentalists continue to charge Bush and these cronies with creating a nonexistent energy crisis as a way to justify political payback to the industry.

    And don't miss complaints by Bush's Secret Service squad that the president's stingy budget for the agency, along with the brood of Bushes qualifying for protection, is burning agents out. Also, check out the debut of T-ball at the White House. Grade school players from the Capitol City League Rockies and the Memphis Red Sox were joined Sunday by the San Diego Chicken, sportscaster Bob Costas and the president on the South Lawn.

    Monday schedule: Bush meets with the emir of Bahrain, gets his picture taken with the National Multiple Sclerosis Mother and Father of the Year, and speaks to the annual conference of the Council of the Americas at the State Department.

    -- A.M.

    This day in Bush history

    May 7, 1990: The country learned that President George Bush -- who had memorably told Democrats, "Read my lips: No new taxes" during his presidential campaign -- had decided, in bargaining with Democrats over his budget, that he would consider raising taxes.

    Burning Bush

    Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

    Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

    Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

    Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

  • By Salon Staff

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