Suppose a local Rotary Club had the community's most wealthy and powerful citizen, Sam Smith, as a member. Imagine that the Rotarians had a dues system that reflected the ability to pay, so that wealthy Sam Smith paid more in dues than any other Rotarian.
To complicate the story, Sam Smith is far back in his dues payments, so far back that the money he owes amounts to almost the club's total yearly budget. The president of the Rotary Club is up for reelection and most of the members want him reelected, but Mr. Big, Sam Smith, says no.
How popular do you think Sam Smith would be with the other Rotarians? Would his influence rise or fall? And what would the other Rotarians do in their election of a president?
This story is true.
Only the "club" is the United Nations. The wealthy deadbeat member is called Sam - Uncle Sam. Most of the UN members believe that Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is doing a good job, despite being hampered by the fact that the United States owes the UN approximately $1.4 billion. But the US wants to veto his reelection as secretary-general.
The other nations, already too often unimpressed by our uncertain leadership in foreign policy, are not pleased with what we are doing, believing it is dictated by domestic politics.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter designated me as one of the delegates to a two-month UN session, and I have since followed the UN and its work with more than casual interest. My impression is that overall the UN performs a vital service and does a good job (although not perfect), and that Mr. Boutros-Ghali has been a hardworking, effective leader - hampered in part by the US talking a great game, but not paying its dues.
EGYPT is the secretary-general's home; as an Egyptian he is also an African. Africa sometimes is called "the dark continent." It is more accurately described as the ignored continent. One little-known fact is the gradual spread of democracy in Africa; some of the fledgling democracies there deserve more encouragement from the US and other nations. African countries take pride in having Boutros-Ghali as the secretary-general.
American opposition to him is coupled with other realities that Africans and others see: President Clinton has never visited Africa. Secretary of State Warren Christopher hasn't visited a sub-Saharan country since he has been secretary, compared with 24 visits to Syria.
Our inattention, coupled with our unfortunate opposition to the reelection of the secretary-general, has not made us any African friends.
*Paul Simon (D) represents Illinois in the United States Senate.