Welcome to the UNGA

Robert O'Brien Former US Representative to the UN
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My 13-year-old son, who is far more interested in sports than politics, walked into the family room yesterday and said: “Dad, I saw on the news that the thing is starting when all the dictators come to America and give speeches about how bad we are.”  His statement is one of the better descriptions of the United Nations General Assembly (the UNGA) that I have ever heard.

For those who do not regularly follow the opening of the UN, here are some of the things you can expect to see this week.

Iranian President Mohammad Ahmadinejad will claim that there are no human rights abuses in Iran (stoning is merely an ancient method of execution that the US is blowing up to create propaganda against Iran), that the American hikers are spies, that Iran is developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes and that he is definitely not anti-Semitic, all of which he told Christiane Amanpour on her Sunday program.

The one true thing he will say is that UN sanctions against Iran are “meaningless.”  They are.  He dismissed them as a “joke” to Amanpour.  He is right.  They will not delay or stop Iran’s march to obtaining a nuclear bomb.  He may renew his call for “Israel to be wiped of the map.”  If he does not, the press will hail the omission as a sign of Iranian moderation.

Israel will be castigated in speeches for everything from the fact it continues to build homes for its citizens in its own capital to its navy’s interception of the blockade-running “humanitarian” ships of the Gaza flotilla.  Sadly, it will not be just the dictators who slam Israel, but far too many Western democracies will bash Israel to curry favor with the Assembly.

Few, if any, delegates will mention the thousands of Hamas rockets that have poured down on the Jewish State since its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.  Nor will anyone point out the irony that fellow UN member states have argued that Israel, a full member of the General Assembly, should cease to exist as a nation.

Over the next several days American, Japanese and European taxpayers will be badgered into pledging more money for the world’s poor.  The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already set up the “ask” by claiming in his report on the Millennium Summit goals this summer “that improvements in the lives of the poor have been unacceptably slow, and some hard-won gains are being eroded by the climate, food and economic crises.”

Of course, China, the world’s second largest economy, with trillions in foreign reserves, will be asked for little and will volunteer even less.  No one will complain.  It would not matter if they did.  The Chinese look out for their national interests only and are not swayed by UN guilt trips.

Further, little mention will be made of the fact that most of the world’s poor live in countries with abundant natural resources that are squandered daily by thugs and strongmen.  These dictators are more interested in lining their pockets, pursuing failed ideologies, undermining their democratic neighbors or abusing the human rights of opposition parties than they are in alleviating the poverty of their people.

Again, there will be few complaints.  To point out such unpleasant facts at the UN would be undiplomatic because such “leaders” will all be present in the Assembly Hall.  A diplomat who scolds might bump into one of the tyrants at the shrimp platter, which could make the reception following the day’s session a bit awkward.

President Obama will be on hand to assure the delegates that America is no longer exceptional in international affairs.  He will say something along the lines of his maiden speech last year: “In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to control another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.”

The dictators will be pleased to hear this message but will not give him anything in return.  The President will smile broadly, talk about his new era of engagement with the UN and head home.

For those who believe that something useful might actually get done at the UNGA, you will not see any of the following:

The UNGA will not condemn North Korea for its unprovoked submarine attack on the Cheonan, in which 46 South Korean sailors were killed.

The UNGA will not put teeth into its sanctions against Iran for ignoring the IAEA or its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.

Cuba will not be cited for the dreadful conditions in which its political prisoners are held.  As the elected vice-chair of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, Cuba is immune from such a reprimand.

Nothing will be done by the UN for the suffering people of Burma, Iran or North Korea, and Chavez will continue his brutal conversion of Venezuela into his own personal Bolivarian fiefdom without a peep from the assembled great and good.

The US will not push for UN reform to root out fraud, waste and abuse that diverts US tax dollars from the truly needy to who-knows-where.

In about a week’s time, after they have told the United States how bad we are, demanded more money from donor countries and finished their Secret Service-escorted shopping trips on Fifth Avenue, the dictators will go home.  That is good news for us and bad news for their countries.

Robert C. O’Brien served as a US Representative to the 60th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.  He practices law in California.  His commentaries are at: www.robertcobrien.com.