The parade of dictators and despots taking the U.N. stage on Monday, as the organization marks its 70th anniversary, was nothing short of spectacular. As were the lies they told without batting an eye to a friendly and respectful audience. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has his hand out for an additional $20 billion this year, so let’s look at what American taxpayers are getting for their large chunk (one-quarter) of the U.N’s bills.
Xi Jinping, President of China, said “we must endeavor to meet” the goals of “democracy and freedom.” Meanwhile, he is an iron-fisted ruler of an undemocratic state where 1.3 billion people languish without civil and political rights.
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Raúl Castro, president of Cuba, said: “The international community can always depend on Cuba to raise its honest voice against injustice . . . and for . . . international order that really focuses on the human being, his dignity and well-being.” No matter that the Castro brothers have denied elementary freedoms to the people of Cuba for more than half a century.
Vladimir Putin said that without the U.N. — “unique in its legitimacy” — “we would be left with no other rules than the rule of force.”
Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, emir of Qatar, said: “We affirm our commitment to fight terrorism,” adding that Qatar is “pursuing an approach based on the rule of law, transparency, justice, and human dignity.” This polygamist bankroller of Hamas, with close ties to the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood, inherited the country — like his father before him — as a family business.
And then there was Hassan Rouhani, president of Iran, who described his rise to power this way: “Two years ago, the people of Iran in a competitive election with their votes gave me a mandate.” It was an election in which 686 candidates tried to register, eight were allowed to run, and every woman was disqualified.
Rouhani continued: “We propose . . . no country be allowed to use terrorism.” These are the words of the leading state sponsor of terrorism. “Iran . . . has never had the intention of producing a nuclear weapon,” he claimed. But in the words of the IAEA: “Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” To top it off, Rouhani threw in some deep-rooted anti-Semitism: “The inhumane actions of the Zionist regime” lay at the “roots of today’s wars, destruction, and terror.”
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The current prevailing opinion in state departments, foreign ministries, and college lecture halls is that all this is unsurprising, irrelevant, and harmless hot air. That claim, however, is harder to sustain after listening to the U.N. chief whose outlook and behavior is fashioned in the image of these thugs.
The secretary-general condemned Israel before he thought to criticize “Da’esh [ISIS], Boko Haram, and Al-Shabab.” He worried that “the fight against terror” and terror itself were a “cycle” of human-rights abuses. Democracy merited one mention near the end of his remarks.
Over and over, the leader of the free world thought that this was the time and place to apologize for his country and for his fellow Americans. He said: “Democracy in the United States is certainly imperfect. At times, it can even be dysfunctional.” And for the umpteenth time in his tenure, he trotted out the warmongering, trigger-happy, American straw man: “We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force.” Said no American ever.
Obama’s fibs are no less toxic than those of the men who took the U.N. podium when he was done.
The president belittled his opposition at home with his most revealing statement of all: “We see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace.” Since when are China, Russia, revolutionary Iran — still holding American hostages — and the self-proclaimed Islamist brand that is actually incompatible with peace, only “perceived” adversaries?Obama’s fibs are no less toxic than those of the men who took the U.N. podium when he was done. He boasted, “The last two decades prov[e] that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable.” If we’re not counting Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Raúl Castro, Hassan Rouhini, Robert Mugabe, and Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani (and more) — since these tyrants alone are the living embodiment of five decades to the contrary. Bad guys rarely go quietly into that good night.
The president conceded that Iran, “as of this moment, continues to deploy violent proxies.” But his response was surreal: “Chanting ‘Death to America’ does not create jobs.”
The U.N. at 70 is an institution where the big lie wins, so it falls to an American president to be — at the very least — a truth-teller. The U.N. at 70 is akin to a false God whose devotees are the morally bankrupt, intimidated, neutered, or ashamed.
Shame on us if it turns 71.
— Anne Bayefsky is the president of Human Rights Voices and the director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust. You can follow her on Twitter @AnneBayefsky.