Woah. Who could imagine that a Republican presidential candidate would pledge to go to the United Nations for lessons on fighting the war-on-terror?
Sure, Mitt Romney said in the final foreign policy phase of the debates that he'll "go after the bad guys" and ‘kill them to take them out of the picture."
But once he's done taking down al Qaeda's lieutenants, Romney said he would look to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) -- a department long criticized by Republican hardliners -- for a plan to counter extremism in the Muslim world.
"We can't kill our way out of this mess. We're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the ... world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism, which is -- it's certainly not on the run," Romney said. "And how we do that? A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the -- the world reject these -- these terrorists. And the answer they came up was this:"
"One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment and that of our friends -- we should coordinate it to make sure that we -- we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law. We have to help these nations create civil societies."
Those prescriptions for change come straight out of The Arab Development Report, which was first published by the United Nations Development Program in 2002 and championed by the agency's then-executive director Mark Malloch Brown. It brought together about 200 scholars, policymakers, and opinion leaders from the Arab world and asked them to propose ways to improve the lives of ordinary people in the Muslim World.
The report's findings have long been controversial in the Arab world, however, and U.N. leaders -- including former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and current U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon -- have done little to compel Arab leaders to abide by them.
But since the Arab Spring, Ban has cited the U.N. publication of the annual report as evidence that the United Nations had been committed to democratic change in the region -- even though the Arab world's despots, including former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, were routinely lauded as peacemakers.
Romney's embrace of the UNDP initiative also marks a remarkable break for Republicans, who have clashed with UNDP over its program on North Korea, which was shut down in 2007 following allegations by the George W. Bush administration that a $3.7 million annual program was improperly funneling hard currency to the regime. The program has since been reopened under stricter regulations.
Romney did take some swipes at President Barack Obama for pursuing a diplomatic process at the United Nations, where more than a year's worth of efforts have failed to get President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power. "What I'm afraid of is we've watched over the past year or so, first the president saying, well we'll let the U.N. deal with it. And Assad -- excuse me, Kofi Annan -- came in and said we're going to try to have a ceasefire. That didn't work. Then it went to the Russians and said, let's see if you can do something."
Romney sought to contrast his own approach, saying he would support efforts by regional powers -- including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar -- to arm the Syrian rebels. But in the end, Romney placed strict limits on the use of U.S. power to get the job done. "I don't want to have our military involved in Syria. I don't think there is a necessity to put our military in Syria at this stage. I don't anticipate that in the future," he said. "As I indicated, our objectives are to replace Assad and to have in place a new government which is friendly to us, a responsible government, if possible. And I want to make sure they get armed and they have the arms necessary to defend themselves, but also to remove -- to remove Assad. But I do not want to see a military involvement on the part of our -- of our troops."
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.