Ben Wattenberg takes on the UN: it's a split decision

Uncle Ben Wattenberg is taking on the United Nations. This benevolently waspish, clear-headed neoconservative thinks like Bill Buckley but looks and sounds like everybody's Uncle Ben. Now he has turned his mental silencer-guns on the organization that inhabits a huge slab of concrete on New York City's East River and a good part of the real estate around Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

But in this fifth program in his 13-week WETA-Washington series ''Ben Wattenberg at Large'' (PBS, Friday, 9:30-10 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats), Mr. Wattenberg does not merely charge a waste of money and manpower, he attacks the very heart of the contemporary UN - its ''automatic majority.''

Perhaps you've been watching him these past four weeks as he investigated the Polish worker uprisings, the renaissance of the Northeast and especially New York, America's inland waterways, and Washington's Institutes of Health (future topics include the Protestant ''left'' and Britain's Social Democratic Party). But in tomorrow's offering you will see him at his wryly querying best as he interviews UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and other UN officials about the current attitudes of ''emerging '' nations toward the United States and America's changing attitude toward them.

Says Ambassador Kirkpatrick: ''My job is to protect and enhance the legitimate aspirations of the American people.'' According to Wattenberg, the 121 supposedly ''nonaligned'' nations insist that their poverty is the fault of US imperialism, that US rapacity can be blamed for just about every fault in their society. He points out that the current leader of those ''nonaligned'' nations is Fidel Castro, who is supported by $8 million per day from the Soviet Union. Mr. Wattenberg yearns for the good old days when neutrals were neutral, when the Western nations constituted the majority, and when there were fewer members who were classified as underdeveloped (now called developing) nations, so that they could not form an automatic majority.

Ambassador Kirkpatrick points out that little attention is paid to the invasions of Afghanistan, Campuchea (Cambodia), and Chad, and she insists that the ''nonaligned'' nations must come to realize that, just as there seems to be a price for not doing what Russia bids, there is also a price for not acting in accord with the US.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the program deals with the rationale behind the recent US stands in the United Nations against UNESCO's attempts to license the world press, and international controls on baby foods. According to Wattenberg, the fact that, under Ambassador Kirkpatrick, we are now discussing our points of view with passion is not a denigration of the UN but more an indication that the United States is finally ''taking the UN seriously.''

''Wattenberg at Large'' is a large dose of ''enlightened conservatism'' a la ''Uncle Ben.'' It constitutes a kind of litmus test for your own political alignment. People who watch Ben Wattenberg often discover to their amazement just how conservative they really are.

Test yourself.

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