Looking for a quick and easy boost in the polls, President Obama has decided to go to the one place where merit bears no relationship to adulation: the United Nations. On September 24, the president will take the unprecedented step of presiding over a meeting of the UN Security Council.
No American president has ever attempted to acquire the image of King of the Universe by officiating at a meeting of the UN’s highest body. But Obama apparently believes that being flanked by council-member heads of state like Col. Moammar Qaddafi — who is expected to be seated five seats to Obama’s right — will cast a sufficiently blinding spell on the American taxpayer that the perilous state of the nation’s economy, the health-care fiasco, and a summer of “post-racial” scapegoating will pale by comparison.
After all, who among us is not for world peace?
Unfortunately, however, the move represents one of the most dangerous diplomatic ploys this country has ever seen. The president didn’t just decide to chair a rare council summit; he also set the September 24 agenda — as is the prerogative of the state holding the gavel for the month. His choice, in the words of American UN Ambassador Susan Rice, speaking on September 2 at her first press briefing since the United States assumed the council presidency, is this: “The session will be focused on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament broadly, and not on any specific countries.”
This seemingly innocuous language has two profoundly disturbing features. First, UN documents indicate that the Security Council is currently dealing with over 100 issues. While “non-proliferation” is mentioned, “disarmament” is not. Similarly, a UN Secretariat compilation “forecasting the Council’s program of work” for the month of September — based on prior activities and requests — lists non-proliferation specifically in relation to Iran and North Korea and does not list disarmament. But in light of Obama’s wishes, a tailor-made subheading will likely be adopted under the existing entry “maintenance of international peace and security.” The new item will insist on simultaneous consideration of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and make no mention of particular states.
This is no trivial technicality. The linguistic formula, which Obama’s confrere Qaddafi will undoubtedly exploit, shamelessly panders to Arab and Muslim states. It is a familiar recipe for stonewalling efforts to prevent Iran or other Muslim and Arab states from acquiring nuclear weapons until Israel is disarmed or Israel’s (unofficial) nuclear capacity is exposed and neutralized. It is also a frequent tool of those whose real goal is to stymie America’s defenses.
Second, Obama’s agenda preference indicates that he is dead-set against chairing a session on the non-proliferation issues already on the council’s plate — those that name Iran and North Korea. This stretches his “beer summit” technique to the global scale. Naming names, or identifying the actual threats to world peace, would evidently interfere with the spectacle of proclaiming affection for world peace in the abstract. The problem is that this feel-good experience will feel best of all to Iran, which has interpreted Obama’s penchant for form over substance to be a critical weakness. As a Tehran newspaper close to the regime snickered in July: “Their strategy consists of begging us to talk with them.”
At Ambassador Rice’s news briefing, she gave “an overview of the principal important meetings” to be held in September on her watch. After finishing the list of subjects without mentioning Iran or North Korea, she added: “So those are the highlights. We also have . . . three sanctions regimes that are up for regular review, chaired by the heads of the sanctions committees. We have Sudan, Iran and North Korea, and these are, I expect, likely to be uneventful and routine considerations of these various regimes.”
Even hard-boiled UN correspondents were surprised. Rice was asked to explain how the recent capture by the United Arab Emirates of containers of ammunition en route to Iran from North Korea could be construed as “uneventful and routine.” Her answer highlights the administration’s delinquency: “We are simply receiving . . . a regularly scheduled update. . . . This is not an opportunity to review or revisit the nature of either of those regimes.”
A brutalized Iranian population, yearning for democracy, has repeatedly been met by nothing but sad faces from this administration. An Iranian president installed by treachery has been legitimized by American recognition of his government, a decision that has sidelined other eminently justifiable alternatives. The leaders of this state sponsor of terrorism aim to annihilate the Jewish state and are on the verge of acquiring the means to do so. But instead of making the isolation and delegitimation of Iran the top priority for America’s turn at the council presidency, the Obama administration has taken Iran off the table at precisely the time when top decision-makers will be present.
The administration’s zeal for the front-page photo-op on September 25’s New York Times has now become a scramble to manufacture an “outcome” for the session. The president’s idea for a glorious finish was described by Ambassador Rice as some kind of joint statement declaring in part “that we are united in support for effective steps to ensure nuclear nonproliferation.”
Such a result would be breathtaking — for the audacity of claiming exactly the opposite of what it really represents. Even allied council members France and the United Kingdom are reported to be very unhappy with Obama’s no-names strategy for his September rollout.
Far from bolstering his flagging image, the president’s group-hug theory of diplomacy deserves the disdain of anyone who can separate rhetoric from reality.
– Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and executive director of Human Rights Voices.