by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
the eve of Hurricane Isabel in mid-September, President George W. Bush quietly nominated as ambassador to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Louise V. Oliver, a right-wing political activist and former president of a controversial political action committee, GOPAC, founded by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
The move might dampen enthusiasm among those who have welcomed the return of the United States to the United Nations after a boycott of almost 20 years.
Some Democrats are already raising questions about Oliver's fitness for the position, which has traditionally gone to prominent figures with strong bipartisan support.
Indeed, some observers here had expected that Bush would appoint former Maryland Representative Connie Morella, a popular internationalist Republican who lost her seat after more than a decade in the House in a narrow defeat in the 2002 elections.
"It would seem that Ms. Oliver's most recent experience makes her uniquely unqualified for an important international post," said New York Rep Carolyn Maloney, who noted that one of UNESCO's explicit purposes is to promote tolerance among people of different cultures and background.
"GOPAC is distinctly undiplomatic," she said. "In the last election, it produced and sponsored racially insensitive political advertisements, and Ms. Oliver is credited with renewing so-called educational tapes and tactics from the Gingrich era which taught future (Republican) leaders to label their opponents as 'sick' or 'traitors'. I'm sure we can do better."
GOPAC was a key part of Gingrich's political empire that helped propel him to the speaker ship after Republicans won a majority of seats in the House in 1994.
In addition to raising money, it trained Republican candidates in advertising and campaign techniques that were considered particularly aggressive. But the network suffered a series of setbacks in the late 1990s when it was investigated for ethics violations, and Gingrich himself resigned from Congress after the 1998 elections.
Maloney has asked the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will take up Oliver's nomination, to undertake a full investigation of her past work.
The White House statement announcing her nomination made no reference to her former position at GOPAC. Instead, she was described as president of Oliver Management Consultants and as "previously appointed by the president to be commissioner of the National Council on Children."
It also said that Oliver earned her bachelor's degree at Smith College, an elite women's school in Massachusetts.
But 'Roll Call', a newspaper that specialises in coverage of Congress, reported Tuesday that it failed to turn up any record of Oliver Management Consultants on the Internet and that the "National Council on Children" did not exist.
Instead, according to the newspaper, Oliver was appointed to serve on the National Commission on Children in 1988 by then-President Ronald Reagan, for a term that ended in March 1989. The commission was abolished in 1993.
A White House spokesperson said Oliver had also served in the Education Department of William Bennett, Reagan's education secretary and that she worked with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).
Founded in 1953, ISI says it works "to nurture ... future leaders the American ideal of ordered liberty (by enhancing) ... the rising generation's knowledge of our nation's founding principles -- limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, free enterprise, and Judeo-Christian moral standards."
Oliver is also listed as an emeritus director of the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), a Washington-based group of mainly right-wing Republican women who often take positions opposed to grassroots feminist organizations, such as the National Organization of Women (NOW) and the League of Women Voters (LWV).
On its website, IWF says its mission is "to advance the American spirit of enterprise and self-reliance and to support the principles of political freedom, economic liberty, and personal responsibility among women."
Among its other emeritus directors, all of whom are known for their opposition to multiculturalism, are Lynne V. Cheney, the controversial former chairperson of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the spouse of Vice President Dick Cheney.
Midge Decter, a prominent neo-conservative polemicist who has just published a book on Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, with whom she chaired the Committee for the Free World during the Reagan administration, and Kate O'Beirne, a prominent right-wing Catholic columnist, are also there.
'Roll Call' also reported that Oliver worked for four months in 2001 with the right-wing Heritage Foundation, "helping the think tank coordinate with conservative coalitions and other like-minded groups."
Along with a number of prominent neo-conservatives, the Heritage Foundation helped lead the campaign that led to the 1984 U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO.
At the time, the Reagan administration charged that the agency, which was then advocating a "new world information and communication order," among other cultural and scientific initiatives, was pursuing an "anti-U.S." and "anti-western" political agenda and that its leadership was guilty of "extravagant budgetary mismanagement."
A charter UNESCO member in 1948, Washington historically was its biggest financial contributor, covering 25 percent of its $180-million annual budget at the time of the withdrawal.
Bush announced Washington's return to the agency in his September 2002 address to the UN General Assembly, which was dominated by an appeal for a new Security Council resolution authorising military action against Iraq.
Some observers saw his UNESCO announcement as a sop to internationalists in Washington and Europe who had been urging Washington to return to UNESCO for more than a decade.
But Congress still must appropriate the $71 million in Bush's 2004 budget that will restore Washington to good standing.
While the House has approved the funds, the Senate struck them from its version of the bill early last month, and growing concern about the costs of U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could spell trouble for UNESCO's prospects in a House-Senate conference committee.
But the fact that Bush sent First Lady Laura Bush to Paris this week to speak at UNESCO's general assembly is considered by observers as an indication that he will press Congress to approve the money.
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