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George Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried two completely different tactics yesterday at the UN, with both confounding expectations. Instead of attacking the United Nations as many of his supporters would have predicted, Bush instead used his address to speak directly to the peoples of terror-sponsoring states. Iran's president used his turn at the podium not to plead his peace-loving credentials so much but to level harsh criticism of the very body that cannot bring itself to punish his nation for its defiance.
Bush got the first slot at the podium earlier in the day, and he spoke about the need for democracy and its positive effects in the region:
Imagine what it's like to be a young person living in a country that is not moving toward reform. You're 21 years old, and while your peers in other parts of the world are casting their ballots for the first time, you are powerless to change the course of your government. While your peers in other parts of the world have received educations that prepare them for the opportunities of a global economy, you have been fed propaganda and conspiracy theories that blame others for your country's shortcomings. And everywhere you turn, you hear extremists who tell you that you can escape your misery and regain your dignity through violence and terror and martyrdom. For many across the broader Middle East, this is the dismal choice presented every day.
Every civilized nation, including those in the Muslim world, must support those in the region who are offering a more hopeful alternative. We know that when people have a voice in their future, they are less likely to blow themselves up in suicide attacks. We know that when leaders are accountable to their people, they are more likely to seek national greatness in the achievements of their citizens, rather than in terror and conquest. So we must stand with democratic leaders and moderate reformers across the broader Middle East. We must give them voice to the hopes of decent men and women who want for their children the same things we want for ours. We must seek stability through a free and just Middle East where the extremists are marginalized by millions of citizens in control of their own destinies.
He also emphasized that America's conflicts in the region are with oppressive governments and not the people they rule:
To the people of Iran: The United States respects you; we respect your country. We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture, and your many contributions to civilization. You deserve an opportunity to determine your own future, an economy that rewards your intelligence and your talents, and a society that allows you to fulfill your tremendous potential. The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism, and fuel extremism, and pursue nuclear weapons. The United Nations has passed a clear resolution requiring that the regime in Tehran meet its international obligations. Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program. We're working toward a diplomatic solution to this crisis. And as we do, we look to the day when you can live in freedom -- and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace.
To the people of Syria: Your land is home to a great people with a proud tradition of learning and commerce. Today your rulers have allowed your country to become a crossroad for terrorism. In your midst, Hamas and Hezbollah are working to destabilize the region, and your government is turning your country into a tool of Iran. This is increasing your country's isolation from the world. Your government must choose a better way forward by ending its support for terror, and living in peace with your neighbors, and opening the way to a better life for you and your families.
Bush also emphasized his support for a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and outlined our efforts to bring that solution to fruition. He spent some time reviewing the details of situation, and even sounded a hopeful note that Hamas would give up its "extremist agenda" and pursue peace after its election to power. Most surprisingly, he didn't challenge the UN on its performance as he did in his last appearance at Turtle Bay, choosing to note only that the UN was formed to help spread freedom and that they have a responsibility to fulfill its mission in that regard.
Ahmadinejad had much more to say to the United Nations about its performance. In an angry speech laced with the kind of conspiracy-theory thinking that plagues Southwest Asia, the Iranian president castigated the UN as a tool of the US and UK and demanded a complete restructuring:
The abuse of the Security Council, as an instrument of threat and coercion, is indeed a source of grave concern.
Some permanent members of the Security Council, even when they are themselves parties to international disputes, conveniently threaten others with the Security Council and declare, even before any decision by the Council, the condemnation of their opponents by the Council. The question is: what can justify such exploitation of the Security Council, and doesn't it erode the credibility and effectiveness of the Council? Can such behavior contribute to the ability of the Council to maintain security? ...
The question needs to be asked: if the Governments of the United States or the United Kingdom who are permanent members of the Security Council, commit aggression, occupation and violation of international law, which of the organs of the UN can take them to account? Can a Council in which they are privileged members address their violations? Has this ever happened? In fact, we have repeatedly seen the reverse. If they have differences with a nation or state, they drag it to the Security Council and as claimants, arrogate to themselves simultaneously the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioner. Is this a just order? Can there be a more vivid case of discrimination and more clear evidence of injustice?
Regrettably, the persistence of some hegemonic powers in imposing their exclusionist policies on international decision making mechanisms, including the Security Council, has resulted in a growing mistrust in global public opinion, undermining the credibility and effectiveness of this most universal system of collective security.
The entire speech is one long harangue about the supposed abuse of the UN and especially the Security Council as a stalking-horse for the "hegemonic powers" of the US and UK. Ahmadinejad gets his facts wrong -- he claims that the Security Council didn't bother to produce a cease-fire in Lebanon, when it did within a month of hostilities breaking out. He also claims that Iran is a member in good standing with the IAEA when the agency itself has noted many violations of the non-proliferation treaty by Teheran, including its hiding of those violations throughout the 1990s, when Iran developed its nuclear program in secret. Ahmadinejad's speech is full of these prevarications, and rather bald ones at that.
We have come to expect a less-than-truthful approach from the Iranians over the years, especially given their background with the IAEA, and Ahmadinejad delivered on another expectation with surprising candor. He rails about the "blanket" support for Israel's existence in the UN, which would certainly surprise the Israelis. Ahmadinejad doesn't even refer to the Israelis by name, calling them instead the "regime occupying Al-Qods Al-Sharif". He obliquely argues for the destruction of Israel at the body that created it, calling Israel (inaccurately) a result of guilt from World War II and the need to relocate survivors of the Holocaust -- but oddly, never refers to the genocide and therefore leaves the entire notion unsupported.
Without a doubt, the Iranian president has given the world a clear view of the hatred and insecurity that lies at the heart of the mullahcracy. The two leaders had the opportunity to reveal the natures of their governments yesterday at Turtle Bay. Bush spoke about democracy and the transformative power of freedom. Ahmadinejad spoke of conspiracies and ancient hatreds. If the world wants to see why they must keep Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, the US could not have asked for a better demonstration.Sphere It View blog reactions
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