Here it comes — Party Week at this year’s opening of the United Nations General Assembly, complete with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe and the foreign ministers of Belarus, Burma, Syria and North Korea (although, with the UN’s practice of giving all 192 members a chance to speak, no matter whom they’ve butchered lately, it takes a full five days to mill through them all. So the last three in this particular Axis of Antediluvians — Burma, Syria and North Korea will bring up the tail-end of the speechifying, the following Monday).
And, of course, Obama, Obama, Obama and yet more Obama. Everything he does at the UN right now is — as his flaks have not been shy about letting us know — historic, if for no other reason than that — this being the first UN annual opening of his presidency — Obama himself has not done it before.
But, in the matter of full-body immersion, he’s about to do it now, with three days of designer boots on the ground in NY. On Tuesday, Sept. 22, Obama will give a historic speak at the Secretary-General’s summit on climate change. Then he’ll host a historic lunch for high officials of Sub-Saharan Africa and attend what the U.S. Mission has described as a “climate change” dinner hosted (your tax dollars, and the UN’s historically high budgets, at work) by Ban Ki-Moon. Which, with Obama in attendance, augurs a lot more historic work toward what the UN would like to translate into historically high levels of regulation and expense affecting almost every aspect of your own daily life. But hey — how else can one make history?
Wednesday, Sept. 23, Obama will deliver what U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice says will be a “historic” address to the UN General Assembly. He’ll also host a meeting with the main patrons of the UN’s (historically corrupt) peacekeeping missions, and attend Ban Ki-Moon’s annual lunch for heads of state and government. That evening, together with Michelle, he’ll host a U.S. reception for the same (historically well-fed) bunch.
On Thursday, Sept. 24, in a move that is historic for reasons extending beyond Obama, he’ll chair a summit-level of the UN Security Council. No American president has ever done this before. There are good reasons no American president has done this, which I will get into in a column I’ll link to on this site tomorrow. For the moment, let’s just note that the UN Security Council is not a White House cabinet meeting, in which Obama can lay out a plan with some expectation of being able to control and enforce it. This is the Security Council which, historically, ignored the Rwanda Genocide while it was taking place (Rwanda was a member of the Council at the time); was corrupted by Saddam Hussein during the 1996-2003 Oil-for-Food program; and has failed abysmally to stop either the North Korean or Iranian nuclear programs. This is the Security Council which among its 10 rotating members currently includes Vietnam and Libya (Qaddafi is expected to share the table with Obama at this meeting), and which always includes China and Russia.
For the topics of this historic Security Council meeting, Obama has picked nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament — but according to Ambassador Rice, there will be no country-specific discussion. That leaves a high probability of Obama taking America down the disarmament road, expecting that others will follow — a strategy entailing a high risk that he will turn around at some point and see that America’s enemies, instead of merrily following his lead, have outflanked him, and, armed to the teeth, have him — and his country — square in their sights. That could yield quite a lot of extremely unpleasant and violents results (such as Overseas Contingency Operations which don’t entirely remain Overseas)– but if making history is what really matters, then not to worry. Even if this brings down new wars on America and our allies, that too would be, of course, historic.
Having decided to shunt Susan Rice aside and take her chair at this Sept. 24th Security Council meeting, Obama has greatly increased the pressure on himself to produce some sort of historic result. That’s tough enough when America sits down to negotiate with its closest allies. At the UN, where hugely divergent interests assemble at the same table, getting an agreement (other than members voting to condemn Israel, or give themselves more U.S. tax money) tends to involve giving away a lot of favors.
I’ve been wondering if the timing, at least, of Obama’s decision this past week to back away from missile defense in Eastern Europe was part of a backroom deal done with Russia to produce some sort of “product” at this Security Council next week. If so, good luck, Barack. The only chumps who tend to honor deals struck at the Security Council are the more law-abiding countries, such as the U.S. For instance, take a look at prosecutions of players who violated UN sanctions during Oil-for-Food. In America, there have been a slew of inquiries, court cases, penalties and prison sentences. In Russia — which was the biggest dealer under the corrupt UN program — the number of inquiries, prosecutions and penalties: Zero. Although, according to a heavily documented Senate Subcommittee inquiry, the corruption reached right up to the Kremlin.
Anyway, having historically chaired the Security Council, Obama will then decamp Thursday afternoon for a meeting of the G-20 in Pittsburgh. Historically speaking, heading for the airport is the smartest move Obama’s likely to make during this UN binge. By then, he’ll have given away whatever he came to give, and fresh requests from an emboldened UN “community” (the G-77, chaired this year by Sudan; the Organization of the Islamic Conference, headquartered in Saudi Arabia; the UN bureaucracy, ever in search of bigger per diems).
At that point, Obama will be a lot closer to “ownership” not only of U.S. healthcare, the stimulus package and defense climbdowns, but also ownership of the UN. For the UN, that’s a sweet deal — good for further concessions, a more debilitated U.S., and more shakedowns of the American taxpayers who are already the organization’s chief sugar-daddies. For an American president, and more broadly for America itself, it’s like trying to build a house with termite-eaten pillars. You own it, it breaks you.