Unfortunately, Secretary of State Clinton, while urging the Palestinians to back off and UNESCO to stay out of the political thicket, also recently told reporters she was “strongly making the case to members of Congress that at some point we need some flexibility because pretty soon, if we don’t pay into these organizations, we lose our right to participate and influence their actions.”
An analogous situation with UNESCO during the Reagan administration is instructive. In the 1980s, UNESCO Soviet-bloc and third world nations continued to confront Western members in pursuit of what they said was a “new order” in economic and social matters. It got to the point where UNESCO was viewed in the West as highly politicized, anti-U.S., and quite corrupt.
Thus in 1984 President Reagan withdrew American membership and contributions. This precipitated a significant reformation campaign within UNESCO, and the organization largely transformed itself. In 2002, President George W. Bush announced the U.S. would rejoin the organization. Yet things have deteriorated over the years since, with anti-U.S. and anti-Israel bias creeping into the UNESCO agenda.
Plainly, the U.S. looms large in the UNESCO picture. The challenge to America posed by the UNESCO vote to admit the Palestinians – despite America’s principled objections and the requirements of U.S. law – is analogous to what President Reagan faced in 1984. The lesson was that resolute assertion of American interests gets results.
President Obama has the opportunity in the context of the Palestinian UN effort to begin making it plain that the U.S. is going to vigorously pursue its interests and not simply go along to get along.