Christopher B. Burnham, the highest-ranking U.S. citizen working in the U.N. Secretariat, is a rare breed here: a Republican Party loyalist and an enthusiastic supporter of President Bush.
Burnham, the United Nations' undersecretary for the department of management, is one of a handful of Bush administration supporters hired by the United Nations in recent months. They have been promoting Bush's political agenda in an organization that has clashed bitterly with Republican policymakers over such issues as the impact of global warming and the justification for the war in Iraq.
Burnham says he sees his purpose as furthering the mission he began as the chief financial officer in the Bush State Department: making the bureaucracy he oversees more accountable. Burnham suggested that his ultimate loyalty may lie with the president, not his new boss, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. He says he also relishes the thought of working with John R. Bolton, a close friend and Bush's choice as U.N. ambassador, to force change.
"I'm not here to be a careerist," said Burnham, a former GOP fundraiser and investment banker who keeps photographs of Bush, Laura Bush and George H.W. Bush in his U.N. office. "I came here at the request of the White House. It's my duty to make the U.N. more effective. My primary loyalty is to the United States of America."
The Bush administration hopes the recent appointments of Republicans such as Burnham; Ann M. Veneman, the new executive director of UNICEF; and others to senior U.N. positions will make the United Nations a more hospitable place for conservative views. Republicans such as James T. Morris, a Bush supporter who heads the U.N. World Food Program, have already used their positions to underscore the humanitarian contributions of prominent Republicans.
Addressing the U.N. Security Council last month on world hunger, Morris paid homage to President Ronald Reagan, a tough critic of the United Nations. Morris said Reagan's decision to provide aid in the 1980s to famine-stricken Ethiopia under communist rule represented the "most eloquent affirmation" of the principle that food should never be used as a weapon of war.
Veneman, who served as agriculture secretary during Bush's first term, insists that she is not seeking to implement White House policies at the agency. But she is promoting priorities that parallel those backed by the Bush administration, which nominated her for the job.
In her initial speeches, she has sidestepped politically sensitive issues championed by her Democratic predecessor, Carol Bellamy -- such as children's rights and reproductive health care -- that have rankled the administration's social conservatives.
Instead, Veneman has highlighted primary health care for children under the age of 5, an area of UNICEF's work that is known as "child survival." She has also advocated what she calls "child protection" themes that are popular in the White House and Congress, including combating the trafficking of children in the sex trade.
"People talk about the convention on the rights of the child, nobody knows what you're talking about," Veneman said. But she said that issues such as child trafficking and the forced recruitment of child soldiers resonate with audiences.
"The issue of children, I just don't think is a Republican or Democratic agenda," she said. "Virtually all of the issues are issues that people universally care about. I don't see myself as furthering anybody's agenda other than that of the world's children."
Life for those few Republicans at the United Nations has been, at times, awkward. Catherine Bertini, who preceded Burnham as the United Nations' top management official, said colleagues were appalled by her backing of Bush after his decision to invade Iraq. Bertini, who resigned in April, recalled being confronted by a senior U.N. colleague who asked, "How can you possibly support that man?"
"Some people don't check their views about other nationalities at the door," Bertini said. "There are several senior executives who were, as far as I'm concerned, anti-American, who made comments in meetings about Americans and or talked about the United States in what I considered a negative tone."
Still, there have been signs of improvement in Republicans' standing in the U.N. system. The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which was derided by the Reagan administration as a wasteful institution that served the interests of anti-Western countries, selected first lady Laura Bush in 2003 as its honorary ambassador for the U.N. Decade of Literacy.
It also recently appointed an educator and former Republican legislator, Peter Smith, as assistant director general for education. Senior Bush officials, meanwhile, have praised UNESCO, likening its universal literacy initiative, "Education for All," to the administration's No Child Left Behind program.
Bush officials still believe the United Nations interfered in the 2004 election to the benefit of Democrats by stepping up criticism of the U.S. postwar effort in Iraq during the presidential campaign. They also assert that the United Nations is institutionally biased against Republicans. Annan's appointment this year of former president Bill Clinton as his special envoy for tsunami relief, they say, underscores a preference for Democrats.
"It's no secret that the views of many in the United Nations align more directly with the views of the Democratic foreign policy establishment," said Stuart W. Holliday, a Republican who is a former U.S. representative to the United Nations for special political affairs.
U.N. officials say they have felt besieged by the Bush administration, which has questioned the organization's relevance when it opposed the invasion of Iraq, and by Republican lawmakers who have championed campaigns to withhold funding to the world body and to force the U.N. chief to resign.
U.N. officials say that despite Republicans' criticism, they have appointed prominent Republicans, including former secretary of state James A. Baker III, to carry out important diplomatic missions.
They say they have also tried to recruit friendly Republicans into the United Nations' ranks, but that they have shown little interest. Several former Republican lawmakers have turned down offers to serve as the chief U.N. liaison official in Washington, a post that will be filled by a seasoned U.S. legislative affairs professional, William Davis.
U.N. officials and independent observers agree that there has been a dearth of Republican officials hired at the United Nations, contributing to a wide communication gap between New York and Washington.
"In recent years, my impression is the secretary general has not had enough people around him who really understand more the conservative political philosophy in the United States," said Edward C. Luck, a Columbia University professor who specializes on the United Nations.
"I think they have been feeding him bad advice, because he just doesn't seem to get it when it comes to dealing with Washington. It's not that he should be surrounded by a bunch of neocons, but he should have some people who in a very unvarnished way can sort of explain to him about American perspectives."
Luck said the fault also lies with the Republican Party, which has a shortage of internationalists who care about U.N. affairs and want to work here. Those few Republicans who have been sent to New York to "shake up the system" may find it hard to leaving a lasting mark. "I think the system is very hard to move," Luck said. "You send someone to New York, and in a couple of years they begin to sound a lot more like a U.N. person than a Bush administration appointee."
In Burnham's case, at least, there have been no signs of a political conversion. Said one senior U.N. official: "The Kool-Aid hasn't made its way through his bloodstream yet."