By Anthony L Hall:
Watching world leaders deliver speeches at the annual United Nations General Assembly is rather like watching actors perform in an Italian opera. And, frankly, their speeches usually have about as much practical import as the arias in an opera.
(Of even less significance of course are those delivered by Caribbean leaders who, continuing the analogy, comprise the chorus in this political farce.)
Nevertheless, some of the notes sounded on Wednesday by two first timers, namely US President Barack Obama and Libyan President Muammar el-Qaddafi, are worthy of comment.
Obama used his address, the first of his nine-month presidency, to remind the member nations of this notoriously feckless body of their collective responsibility to help fight the global threats and challenges we face, including terrorism and climate change.
And in one deftly crafted sentence he managed both to reinforce his mandate to transform America’s image in the world and to indicate that his predecessor’s unilateral approach might not have been entirely unwarranted:
“Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.”
Regrettably, this was not only his highest note, it was the only one he sounded that we haven’t heard a thousand times before...
By contrast, Qaddafi used his address, the first of his 40-year dictatorship, to unleash an entertaining, stream-of-consciousness rant that showed why only Fidel Castro rivals his flair for Third World, revolutionary rhetoric.
For over 90 minutes (instead of the 15 he was allotted), he railed against a litany of injustices (real and imagined) that have been perpetrated (primarily by the US) since the UN was founded 64 years ago. He cited, among other cases, the wars in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan; the assassinations of JFK and MLK; and the conspiracy of pharmaceutical companies manufacturing diseases like Swine Flu so that they can peddle vaccines for profit.
But he unleashed the lion’s share of his long-simmering rage on the untenable double standard that governs almost all UN resolutions. In particular, he accused the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (namely, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) of using their veto powers to wage war and impose sanctions against other members like al Qaeda terrorists:
“The preamble (of the charter) says all nations are equal whether they are small or big… Veto power should be annulled... The Security Council did not provide us with security but with terror and sanctions. It should not be called the Security Council; it should be called the terror council.”
Granted, the allusion to terrorists is a bit extreme; but this indictment of the UN contains much more than a grain of truth. And, incidentally, I also think there’s merit in Qaddafi’s grievance about how unfair, inconvenient and unnecessary it is to have the UN (still) headquartered in the US (Indeed, why not France, China or India?).
Conspicuously absent from his indignant diatribe, however, was any reference to the many injustices he’s alleged to have perpetrated. Indeed, this is why, even though much of Qaddafi’s message was undeniably true, I understand why so many people just want to shoot this messenger.
All the same, nothing distinguished his performance quite like the unrequited praise he heaped on Obama, even referring to him (with Pan-African pride) as “my son”:
“I’m happy that the new president, a son of Africa, governs the United States of America. This is a historic event. This is a great thing. Obama is a glimpse in the darkness after four or eight years. We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as president of the United States.”
That said, I usually mark this annual gabfest by commenting on the world leader whose attendance many herald like the arrival of a skunk at a dinner party. In recent years Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have received this dubious honor. Not surprisingly, it’s Qaddafi this year.
No doubt you’ve heard that relatives of the victims of Pan Am flight 103 orchestrated a persona-non-grata campaign to ensure that he would have no place on US soil to pitch his Bedouin-style tent, which he uses to entertain guests wherever he goes.
Of course, this extraordinary display of inhospitality stems from the fact that many people believe Qaddafi ordered the terrorist bombing of this flight in 1988, which killed 189 Americans. And it was only exacerbated by the fact that, after Scottish authorities released the only man convicted of this bombing a few weeks ago, Qaddafi welcomed him home as a national hero.
However, notwithstanding my sympathy for these still grieving souls, it reeks of vintage American arrogance and stupidity that so many opportunistic, small-town politicians have enabled their misguided campaign against this Libyan head of state.
(They have somehow managed to deny Qaddafi permission to pitch his tent in New York’s Central Park, on the grounds of the Bedford, NY estate he actually leased from Donald Trump, or even on the grounds of the New Jersey residence of his own UN representative.)
Meanwhile, this jingoistic nimbyism makes a mockery of the benevolent, cooperative and, yes, hospitable image of America Obama projected during his UN address. Never mind that it plays right into Qaddafi’s assertion that the time has come to move the headquarters of the UN out of the US.
NOTE: Most world leaders sit in the General Assembly when US presidents deliver their annual address. Therefore, I remain nonplused by the slight all US presidents, including Obama now, show them by refusing to reciprocate this respect.
But that Obama aped Bush by not even having the US Ambassador to the UN (or any US representative) show Ahmadinejad this respect is inexcusable and says more about America’s congenital imperiousness than it does about Iran’s nurtured defiance.
World leaders blow hot air at UN confab
Release of Lockerbie bomber…
September 25, 2009