Thursday, June 8, 2006

Until this week, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown, a Briton, was best known as a confidante of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan who rents his Westchester home from billionaire buddy George Soros at a price only slightly lower than his U.N. salary. But from this week forward, he will be known as the U.N. bureaucrat who tried to blow up relations with the United States by scorning “Middle America.” He told us, in so many words, that we are a bunch of dumb rubes who need to be corralled by government.

“[M]uch of the public discourse that reaches the U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News,” Mr. Brown said Tuesday in a conference sponsored by two liberal think tanks. “The U.N.’s role is, in effect, a secret in Middle America” — yes, he used the words “Middle America” — whose media engages in “too much unchecked U.N.-bashing and stereotyping.”

His antidote? Not U.N. reform, of course — not an end to the type of mismanagement which caused the Oil-for-Food scandal, the peacekeeper rapes or the shameful accession of Cuba to the supposedly reformed Human Rights Council — but U.S. government action to quell the critics. The Bush administration has “fail[ed] to stand up for [the United Nations] against its domestic critics,” he said. The message: If the government would only silence the media, then the United Nations could get along with its business as it has grown accustomed to.

The Bush administration’s reaction to this was appropriately apoplectic. U.N. Ambassador John Bolton called it “the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official that I have seen”since he first met Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1989. “A very, very grave mistake,” he called it. The dig at ordinary people was not lost on Mr. Bolton either: “Fundamentally and very sadly, this was a criticism of the American people, not the American government, by an international civil servant,” he told the AP. “It’s just illegitimate.”

He might have added that it shows an abysmally poor understanding of how America works. The Briton Mr. Brown has lived here long enough. He should know what a free press looks and sounds like. Maybe European countries could tolerate this type of scorn for the people whom public servants and their international counterparts are supposed to serve. But not in the United States.

Right now, this is an unprecedented standoff. A spokesman for Mr. Annan said his boss stands by the remarks. It’s not clear where we go from here.

What is much clearer is this: In America, the public tells the government what to do, not the other way around. We’re sorry that Mr. Brown is unable to accept that fact. We’re not sorry that he revealed his elitist contempt for the public, however.

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