OVER the years, the United Nations has been a splendidly idealistic organization bedeviled by ineptness, waste, and often a mean, anti-Western streak.
But it is cleaning up its act, and after years of ineffective posturing it now has a chance to become a real force for the preservation of peace.
Some 22,000 blue-bereted UN soldiers are to be deployed in the sorrowful land of Cambodia, there to keep a motley array of factions from savaging each other.
More than 14,000 UN soldiers are due to go to Yugoslavia, another country that has seemed bent on fratricidal self-destruction. Some 6,000 are already in Lebanon, a "nation" in name only, but in reality a collection of bitterly warring private armies.
Another 8,500 are in place, or will be, in such hate-riven spots as Cyprus, El Salvador, the Golan Heights, and Angola.
Armed with little more than good intentions, these international mercenaries of peace are intended to monitor uneasy truces, to keep the flames of factional contention tamped down, and to act as a kind of forward tripwire to prevent regional tensions from exploding into large-scale warfare.
Though nobody can be sure how well these multinational forces will do in tackling peacekeeping on such a diverse and expanding scale, it is worthwhile giving them a chance. They are not getting much support in the United States, where the Bush administration is having a tough time scraping up $900 million to help pay for the UN's peacekeeping forces over the next two years.
Americans are mired in recession and not in much of a mood for spending abroad. The politicians who represent them are attuned to that mood.
George Bush has been a president strong in the practice of foreign policy. He hobbled Saddam Hussein if he has not yet overthrown him. He has presided over the end of the cold war and the dissolution of the former Soviet Union.
But with Pat "America First" Buchanan nipping at the president's heels in the midst of a daunting reelection campaign, the White House managers want to emphasize domestic affairs and downplay foreign entanglements.