It is by now a scene so familiar it’s become routine. At your expense, dear taxpayers of the planet — and especially at the expense of all you colonialist, imperialist, capitalist taxpayers of the United States — the United Nations holds a huge gathering. Eminences and excellencies jet in from around the globe, and as they parade across the stage to make their statements, among those invited to the podium is Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Since his “election” in 2005, Ahmadinejad has appeared seven times at the annual openings of the General Assembly debates in New York, and will presumably pop up for an eighth roadshow in Manhattan, courtesy of the UN, this September. He has spoken at a 2008 conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization, in Rome; at a 2010 nonproliferation summit in New York; and of course in 2009 he was a star speaker at the Durban II bigoted conference on anti-bigotry, in Geneva.
And this week, when some 50,000 eminences, professional climate junketeers and other worthies carbon-emitted their way to Brazil for the UN’s Rio+20 conference on “Sustainable Development,” there came, of course, that Ahmadinejad moment. Eighteen minutes and 16 seconds of Ahmadinejad, actually — you can watch it on video here — in which UN authorities announced the “honor” of inviting “his excellency” to take the podium. The current leaders of the Free World — those would be the Canadian delegates — walk out. Maybe some others do, too. Still in the room is an audience that will applaud at the end of Ahmadinejad’s speech, and a presiding UN official who will thank him for it. Ahmadinejad ascends the stage, and with a multilateral backdrop of flags, before a lectern decked out with the UN logo, he preens himself in the world spotlight. Webcast to the world, he addresses the chamber.
That’s the UN. That’s how it works. Never mind that Iran’s government, in mocking violation of sanctions imposed by the UN’s own Security Council, is enroute to producing nuclear weapons. Never mind that Iran’s regime, represented here by Ahmadinejad, sponsors terror networks around the globe, tortures and murders dissidents at home, and has led the modern world in juvenile executions. Never mind that Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe the nation of Israel off the map. At the UN, all excellencies, however unexcellent, are invited to enjoy the prestige of the podium.
Does it matter? Does this routine really do any harm?
Yes, it matters. Ahmadinejad’s speech itself will surely be of interest to specialists, who may find plenty to parse in the exact phrasing of his messianic pronouncements on the coming of a new world order : “The international order must be redesigned to serve both material and spiritual needs of humankind….That day is coming… permanent peace and love… monotheism, justice and love… .”
To me, he sounds like he’s taken his cues from the fictitious General Jack D. Ripper, the deranged author of nuclear apocalypse in Dr. Strangelove. Except this is no Hollywood film. This guy speaks as the face of a nuclear-wannabe regime that has collaborated with al-Qaeda, and whose terror mascots and storm troopers have been in the atrocity business for decades, from Beirut to Buenos Aires to Damascus.
And yes, it does harm. Whatever Ahmadinejad’s audience makes of his pronouncements from the UN stage, whether the response is to laugh him off as a buffoon, or take him seriously as a herald of mass murder, there is a message in this routine for the Iranian regime itself. The message is that no matter how brazenly Iran’s regime violates civilized norms, no matter how flagrantly Iran’s rulers abuse the values of human dignity and freedom the UN was meant to uphold, no matter what lines they cross, no matter whom they threaten, or what weapons they build, there will always be a place for Iran’s rulers at the UN table. Whether in Rome, Rio, Geneva or New York, Ahmadinejad will be invited to join the parade of “excellencies” across the main stage of an organization sustained in great part by American citizens (and their money).
That is a terrible message to transmit, repeatedly, to Tehran. Under the actual terms of the UN charter, Iran under its current government doesn’t even qualify to be a member of the UN. If the free nations of the world cannot muster the will, or the support, to simply evict Ahmadinejad and his ilk wholesale from UN membership (and it appears they can’t), surely they could at least seek a way to bar him from the stage.