Remember the tsunami? Big story, 300,000 dead; America and other rich countries too "stingy" in their response; government ministers from every capital on Earth announcing on CNN every 10 minutes more millions and gazillions.
It was in all the papers for a week or two, but not a lot of water under the bridge since then. As a result this interesting statistic may not have caught your eye:
Five hundred containers, representing one-quarter of all aid sent to Sri Lanka since the tsunami hit Dec. 26, are still sitting on the dock in Colombo, unclaimed or unprocessed.
Four months ago, did you chip in to the tsunami relief effort? Did your company? A Scottish subsidiary of The Body Shop donated a 40-foot container of "Lemon Squidgit" and other premium soap, which arrived at Medan in January and has languished there ever since because of "incomplete paperwork," according to Indonesian customs officials.
Well, those soapy Scots were winging it -- like so many of us, eager to help but too naive to understand that, no matter the scale of devastation visited upon a hapless developing nation, its obstructionist bureaucracy will emerge from the rubble unscathed. Yet, among the exhaustive examples of wasted western generosity unearthed by the Financial Times, what struck me was not the freelancers but the permanent floating crap game of international high-rollers who couldn't penetrate the labyrinth of Indonesian paperwork.
Diageo sent eight 20-foot containers of drinking water via the Red Cross. "We sent it directly to the Red Cross in order to get around the red tape," explained their Sydney office. It arrived in Medan in January and it's still there. The Indonesian Red Cross lost the paperwork.
UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency, sent 14 ambulances to Indonesia, and they took two months to clear customs. Terrible as it was in its awesome fury, the tsunami was in the end transnational business as usual.
That brings me to the John Bolton nomination process, which is taking so long you would think the U.S. Senate was run by Indonesian customs inspectors. Writing of near-Ambassador Bolton's difficulty getting his paperwork stamped by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, National Review's Cliff May observed "the real debate is between those who think the U.N. needs reform -- and those who think the U.S. needs reform."
Very true. Sen. George Voinovich, one of those "maverick Republicans" the press goes goo-goo over, seems to believe, as Mr. May puts it, "that the problem is more American 'unilateralism' than U.N. corruption, immorality, anti-Americanism and ineptitude."
On the face of it, this shouldn't be a difficult choice, even for as uncurious a squish as Mr. Voinovich. Whatever one feels about it, the United States manages to function. The U.N. apparatus doesn't. Indeed, the U.S. does the U.N.'s job better than the U.N. does. The part of the tsunami aid operation that worked was the first few days, when America, Australia and a handful of other nations improvised instant and effective emergency relief operations that did things like, you know, save lives, rescue people, restore water supply, etc.
Then the transnational bureaucracy's poseurs took over, held press conferences demanding stingy Westerners give more, more, more. The usual incompetence and corruption followed.
But none of that matters. As the grotesque charade Mr. Voinovich and his Democrat chums have inflicted on us demonstrates, all the so-called "multilateralists" require is that we be polite and deferential to the transnational establishment regardless of how useless it is. What matters in global diplomacy is that you pledge support rather than give any. Thus, John Bolton would have no problem getting nominated as U.N. Ambassador if he were more like Paul Martin.
Who? Well, Paul Martin is prime minister of Canada. And in January, after the tsunami hit, he flew into Sri Lanka to pledge millions and millions and millions in aid. Not like that heartless George W. Bush back at the ranch in Texas. Why, Prime Minister Martin walked along the ravaged coast of Kalumnai and was, reported Canada's CTV network, "visibly shaken." President Bush might well have been shaken, but he wasn't visible, and in the international compassion league that's what counts.
So Mr. Martin boldly pledged $425 million in Canadian tsunami relief. "Mr. Paul Martin has set a great example for the rest of the world leaders" raved the LankaWeb news service.
You know how much of that $425 million has been spent so far? Just $50,000 -- Canadian. That's about $40,000 in U.S. dollars. The rest isn't tied up in Indonesian bureaucracy; it's back in Ottawa. But, unlike horrible "unilateralist" America, Canada enjoys a reputation as the perfect global citizen, renowned for its commitment to the U.N. and multilateralism.
And on the beaches of Sri Lanka that and a buck will get you a strawberry daiquiri. Canada's contribution to tsunami relief is objectively useless and rhetorically fraudulent.
This is how the transnational jet set works when the entire world is in complete agreement and acts in perfect harmony. Unlike more "controversial" issues like the mass slaughter in Sudan, no Security Council member is pro-tsunami. Yet with the entire planet is on the same side, the 24/7 lavishly funded U.N. humanitarian infrastructure can't get its act together.
When rent-a-quote senators claim to be pro-United Nations or multilateralist, the tsunami operation is what they have in mind: When something bad happens, the U.S. should work through the approved transnational bureaucracies and throw even more "resources" at them, though nothing will happen (Sri Lanka), millions will be stolen (Oil for Food), children get raped (U.N. peacekeeping) and hundreds of thousands will die (Sudan).
John Bolton's sin is to have spoken the truth about the international system rather than the myths to which photo-oppers like the Canadian prime minister defer. As a result, he is treated like a container of Western aid processed by Indonesian customs. Customs Inspector Joe Biden and Junior Clerk Voinovich spent two months trying to come up with reasons why Mr. Bolton's paperwork is inadequate and demanding to know why he hasn't filled out his RU1-2.
An RU1-2 is the official international bureaucrat's form reassuring the global community he will continue peddling all the polite fictions, no matter how self-evidently risible they are. John Bolton isn't one, too. That's why we need him.
Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.