Analysis: Showdown at the UN

Bush didn't even mention Ahmadinejad by name in his speech.

By ANSHEL PFEFFER
September 20, 2006 00:22
4 minute read.
United Nations AP 298

United Nations AP 298.88. (photo credit: Associated Press)

While the TV cameras focus on the orderly proceedings and the staid speeches in the UN General Assembly chamber in New York, audiences around the world have little idea of the chaos in the corridors of the building on First Avenue. Thousands of delegates jostle with UN security personnel, US Secret Service agents and burly bodyguards, while a bevy of journalists push and scream in desperate attempts to get into small meeting-rooms where impromptu summits are taking place. Aides run around attempting to coordinate the schedules of presidents and prime ministers eager to rack up as many high-level pow-wows as possible.

  • Ahmadinejad: UNSC pawn of US and UK Precious little of any meaning gets done in the world's talking-shop, save for a never-ending series of photo-ops. There also, "minders" with the opposite mission are making sure mortal enemies don't meet inadvertently on the staircase or going into lunch. The General Assembly was supposed to be a device for getting even the UN's most fractious members together, but it has proven incapable of bridging the gaps, even between leaders in the same building. The real business is done elsewhere, in more discreet conferences, but for many of the leaders, especially those from impoverished countries, this is the chance to rub shoulders with the major players so they make the annual pilgrimage with inflated entourages, spending currency they can ill afford on thousand-dollar-a-night Manhattan hotel suites and limousine cavalcades - even if like Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, they run the risk of a coup d'etat in their absence. For the third-worlders, it is indeed a heady experience. At last year's General Assembly, one was so excited that he described his speech as a metaphysical event. "I felt that the atmosphere suddenly changed, and for those 27 or 28 minutes, all the leaders of the world did not blink. When I say they didn't move an eyelid, I'm not exaggerating" said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad upon returning home from New York. There was no question of him missing this year's jamboree. Since the last General Assembly, Ahmadinejad has gained international stature and been feted in major capitals such as Caracas and Havana. He is now the official No. 1 enemy of the world's superpower, proclaiming on the way to New York that Iran could manage the globes's affairs much better than the United States. One leader who is distinctly underwhelmed by the event is US President George W. Bush. His body language is loud and clear, especially the depreciating smirk when he thanked Secretary General Kofi Annan "for the privilege of addressing the General Assembly." Bush routinely uses his right as host to speak at the beginning of the session and then to quietly disappear from his least favorite building in the country. He definitely had no plans yesterday to hang around for the afternoon session when Ahmadinejad was to take his place on the podium. The US might have issued the Iranian delegation visas, but Ahmadinejad isn't invited to Bush's reception. The international press tried to build up the two presidents' simultaneous presence as the ultimate showdown, but Bush wasn't about to give him any satisfaction. Ahmadinejad might have invited his American counterpart to a televised debate, but Bush didn't even mention him by name in his speech. Those who expected Bush to show a bit of humility - Annan was definitely one; last week he summed up his Middle East visit by saying that almost all the region's leaders agreed that the US intervention in Iraq was an unmitigated disaster - were fated to be deeply disappointed. Bush insisted that Iraq was better off now then when under Saddam Hussein's heel and presented a totally unrepentant view of the Middle East. He divided the hot-spots into three categories: the good guys, the bad guys, and those who have to decide which side they are on. Iran and Afghanistan are the good ones, those who redeemed themselves from tyranny with a bit of help from the US. The leaders of those nations sitting in the assembly got a personal presidential nod. Lebanon and the Palestinians received encouragement along with not-too-veiled threats against Hamas and Hizbullah. But the central message was for Iran and Syria. Bush expressed deep "respect" for the people of both countries. When an American president respects a people, it usually means that their leaders are on the hit list. Bush promised that "we" would know how to deal with these leaders. UN etiquette dictates that presidents addressing the General Assembly pay at least lip-service to the consensus of the international community, but that's not what Bush means by "we." Annan, who opened the session, summed up his decade as secretary-general, highlighting all the conflicts and woes still plaguing the world and blaming everyone else for what could easily be seen as the UN's shortcomings. His solution is simple: more backing, power and resources for the gallant organization and its blue-helmeted elite troops. This was Annan's last General Assembly appearance; he will be stepping down at the end of 2006. Bush and Ahmadinejad will still be around after his departure, and Bush made it quite clear that as far as he's concerned, in the two years still remaining to his presidency, he plans to show Ahmadinejad who's boss.


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