Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, stopping by CBS' "Face the Nation" the other week, summed up the state of the planet about as well as anyone could: "To put it mildly," she said, "the world is a mess."
That certainly was to put it mildly. In fact, I don't think I've seen the likes of the current world situation in my lifetime.
Ethnic cleansing and genocide in Kurdistan ... a commercial aircraft shot out of the sky in the Ukraine ... Russia moving tanks across a national border ...Hamas firing an average 100 rockets a day into Israel ... extremist groups from Syria surging into Iraq, seizing key territory and resources. The list goes on.
What's missing from this picture? The one thing I look for every day and don't see.
A United Nations presence.
Where is the United Nations?
Never mind, that's a rhetorical question: Of course the U.N. is doing what it always does in times of crisis. Its dour-faced Security Council is gathered, wringing its hands and issuing statements of"deep concern" over the failure of a permanent cease-fire along the Gaza strip or penning "condemnations of the persecution of Christians and other minorities" in Iraq.
But really do something to assemblean armed, multinational force to end even one of the violent humanitarian nightmares in the world? Don't be silly -- it's not happening.
Since Saturday I and millions of others have watched in horror as American, Iraqi and now British soldiers, hour after hour, worked daring helicopter rescues of the tens of thousands of Yezidis -- a handful at a time. These people are trapped on a mountain in Northern Iraq by theIslamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS, take your pick) -- extremist thugswho want them Muslim or dead. These innocents had to flee for their lives; they are traumatized, without food or water.
ISIL also took Mosuls dam Iraqs biggest reportedly hoisting the black flag of the caliphate over it. By controlling the dam, which powers the countrys second largest city, Islamic State fighters could flood entire towns and cut off water and electricity to hundreds of thousands of people.
Meanwhile, the ISIL jihadists have issued a chilling statement to America: "See you guys in New York."
Did any of this light a stick of dynamite under the U.N.? You decide:
In a written statement (from a safe distance), U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called himself "appalled."
"Reports of Yezidis amassing along the Turkish border as well as thousands also trapped in the Sinjar mountains in desperate need of humanitarian assistance are of urgent and grave concern," the statement said. Ban Ki-moon also called on the international community, and "especially those with the influence and resources to positively impact the situation, to support the government and people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq."
Sure thing, Ban. The Yanks and Brits are in there; the Aussies will probably join soon. Never mind that terrorism is an international threat. You relax, Ban, keep squeezing those worry beads.
I remember Bosnia, when United Nations troops didn't show up until 1994 -- two years late. This is deja vu.
Except for one thing.
Twenty years ago I didn't know how much it cost the Unites States to belong to the U.N. I didn't know what our -- or any other nation's -- dues were. Please -- allow me to tell you.
Every member state is legally obligated to pay its respective share toward peacekeeping. This is in accordance with the provisions of Article 17 of the Charter of the United Nations
Most everyone knows the United States is the largest contributor to the United Nations and its affiliated funds, programs, and specialized agencies. But nailing down precisely how much we pay every year isn't so easy, and before 2005 we didn't have precise totals.
To cut to the chase, the totals in fiscal year 2010 exceeded $7.691 billion -- that's billion with a "b" -- more than $1.3 billion higher than fiscal year 2009s record of $6.347 billion. In fiscal year 2011, the total is more than $9 billion, and in 2012 more than $10.4 billion.
We're talking just the United States' share.
Now, I happen to believe the United Nations is vital for this nation -- a principle for us, leader of the free world, to support no matter what. At the very least, the U.N. is the torch of hope we want to keep alight. It should be a vehicle for sharing with the rest of the world the innate goodness of who we are as a nation.
But I agree with Florida Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen who has, over and over again, urged reform in this behemoth of an organization that plays by its own rules because it's allowed to. People are dying in a world that seems to grow needier every year. The U.N. must be made to fulfill its promise as peacekeeper.
Just once I would like to see it move as quickly to assemble boots on the ground as it does to issue its endless, good-for-nothing letters of condemnation. Enough is enough.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith