After an initial United Nations response to the mass uprising in Egypt of … well, not much… Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has jumped into the fray. On Wednesday and again on Thursday he called for a transition “now.” He wants it to be “very peaceful and orderly” but he wants it to be “done now.” CBS News reports that in his consultation with assorted political leaders, Ban appears to be “building an international alliance to assist Egypt to do so.”
Question: Where was this UN zeal for transition when the people of Iran, braving a regime far more horrific and malign than the dictatorship of Egypt, were bleeding and dying in the streets in June of 2009? When Iran erupted in revolt, Ban faded into the woodwork. As I noted in a column in late June, 2009, “Where’s the UN on Iran?”, Ban first told reporters he was “closely following the situation.” As the carnage continued, with demonstrators denouncing the rigged presidential reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Iranian security forces beating and shooting and arresting them, Ban did not question the legitimacy of the regime. On the contrary, by implication, he supported it, saying that he had “taken note of the instruction by the religious leaders that there should be an investigation into this issue.”
The weekend that the video went viral on the web of Neda Soltan bleeding to death in the street, Ban was not huddled with international leaders discussing how to bring about immediate regime change in Iran. Ban was in Birmingham, England, accepting an award at a Rotary International Convention.
So why, in Ban Ki-Moon’s books, do mass protests in Egypt require an immediate transition of power, while the demands of mass protests in Iran are to be satisfied with promises by the regime that it will inquire into the reasons for the protests?
One might well ask a similar question about the policies of the Obama administration, which was content during the Iranian uprising to “bear witness,” but is now reported to be working flat-out to ensure Egyptian officials kick start a transition. Actually, one could ask a lot of questions. Does China’s President Hu Jintao represent a regime any less brutal than that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt? Yet, just last month, President Obama hosted a state dinner for Hu at the White House. So, is the chief distinction, then, that despots who receive U.S. aid are ripe for removal, but despots who are U.S. creditors are feted by the president?
Complete consistency in these matters is probably beyond the reach of any UN project, and any U.S. foreign policy. But there’s a lot of room here for our current global bigwigs to begin displaying any consistency whatsoever. In tumultuous and dangerous times, it would be awfully good to hear our intrepid leaders spell out, as clearly as they possibly can, exactly what standards really do apply. In countries where votes really count, that might help the voters decide whether the current standards, and the leaders applying them, are — to borrow the lingo of diplomacy — even remotely “acceptable.”