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Monday, September 30, 2002

Bunfight at the UN Corral

Tim Blair savages the Syndey Morning Herald's Hugh Mackay for his parable of the lawmen and the outlaw, starring Sheriff W, Deputy John Howard [Aussie PM], and badman Saddam Hussein. Dunno where senior Deputy Tony Blair has gone.

Tim already takes care of the general fisking, although he doesn't seem to notice the "state of intense arousal" attributed to Bush and Howard (ewwww). Mackay's parable falls into an incoherent mess about a third of the way through, and ends with Saddam dead, but his "friends" taking it out on the junior cop (who is now Australia, rather than Howard).

Moral: trigger-happy cops reap what they sow, and so do trigger-happy politicians.

Extended metaphors seldom work. They're tempting because they offer a way to present a complex and unusual situation in terms of a more familiar and simple one. But they eventually unravel, and either you must abandon the metaphor, and look like a chump for attempting it, or you must slog grimly forward, and lose your way. Hugh, here, has done the latter.

But I won't beat Mackay up for his (lack of) rhetorical skills, because Tim's already done it.

(Although Mackay has left some things out. This being "an outer suburb of Sydney" there's bound to be a bat the size of a Cessna flitting about, emitting noises like a cat using a blackboard as a scratching post. What does this represent? A Predator drone armed with a Hellfire missile (represented by the guano)? And how about the half-container of greasy Indian takeway dumped on the sidewalk? Perhaps this stands for the money Saddam has spilled and wasted for weapons and palaces when it could have gone to feed his people. And what of this conversation, sure to be held down on the corner?:

"So I said to 'er, 'Look, you wanna have a fookin fook er what', y'know? Whatthe fook? And she said, 'Ya fookin fooker I wooden fook you if yewer the last fookin fooker on the fookin earth.' An nen I said, 'Whatta fook, yer fookin slut, there's plenny a sheila's that'd---whatta fook're ya doin? Yer fookin blowin allever muh fookin shoes, mate! Fook!"

This, of course, is a clear reference to the anti-war movement.)

But I've digressed. What I wanted to point out, though, is why Mackay's metaphor fails. Mackay's parable assumes that there is some authority above the sheriff. He is answerable to it, yes, but that's because there is a body of law that guides and supports him. Sheriff W. and his deputies do not have this; they are forced to rely on themselves.

In order to have law, you have to have someone to make the law (the legislature), someone to interpret the law (the courts), and someone to enforce the law (the cops). In some places, all these people are the same people (or person), but there are still three steps. The UN only has the first of these, sort of. Occasionally the Security Council or General Assembly will pass a resolution requiring to so-and-so and do such-and-such, and after that it relies upon communal pressure, of some sort, to obey.

But this system is in large part based upon the offending member's respect for the rule of law. It assumes he'll comply because he doesn't wish to be known as a lawbreaker, or because he doesn't want to be a pariah in the "international community". And if Strategic Frowning doesn't work on him, maybe economic sanctions will, and if they don't maybe military force will. But enacting a punishment will mean getting everyone to agree to it, working out what kind of punishment, and finding someone to enforce it.

So if the body cannot summon up the collective will to enforce its own dictates, then there is no penalty for breaking the "law". The only ones to obey the law will be those who are, by inclination, law-abiding. In a society where only the law-abiding are punishable, while real outlaws are left alone, the law is a joke and those who respect it are fools.

I think most of the UN member states know this all too well. I believe this is why they pass infinite anti-Israel resolutions while Syria is on the Security Council and the Human Rights Commission. The UN is free to criticize Israel, or pass any other kind of loopy resolutions, knowing that there's little chance they're going to have to back them up.

Maybe this is why they're dragging their feet on Iraq. They passed all these resolutions, figuring that they'd never be enforced, and now they're being asked to enforce them and they're soiling their britches.

(Now this may sound like a call for stiffening the UN, for giving it a real military and and real courts and real power. Sadly, no. The UN is a fine thing for mediating disputes between its members, as an attempt to prevent war. But it's a lousy world government, and shouldn't be allowed to continue to evolve into one.)