The U.N. General Assembly that meets every year in September is a place where presidents and prime ministers from all the member countries have a chance to tell each other how they see things. You could say it’s the world’s town hall.
But something’s wrong: carrying on a diplomatic custom that harks back to I don’t know when, delegates walk out when people they don’t agree with speak. Maybe the U.N. should consider revising its charter so that everyone has to at least hear what everyone else has to say.
That probably sounds naive and impractical, but if it could be put into practice it would be bound to ellicit some flickers of recognition here and there, perhaps only among junior staff sitting in for the big wigs, of the validity of other points of view.
This year, the newly minted French President Nicholas Sarkozy (it’s not a French name because his father was Hungarian - France too has its immigrants) delivered a ringing call for dialogue, and warned that if the developed world doesn’t listen to the rest, the future will be catastrophic. I don’t subscribe to Sarkozy’s right of center politics, but his demeanor was a refreshing change from Jacques Chirac’s earnestly mellifluous delivery.
Alas, it was as if the United States hadn't heard a word he said. Our representatives duly marched out when the speakers representing Iran and Cuba came to the podium.
After Tuesday’s shameful behavior by the President of Columbia University, who introduced a guest many objected to by insulting him, credit should be given to CNN for carrying Ahmadinejad’s speech to the U.N. live and in full. But that evening, when it was time for a promised one-on-one with Christiane Amanpour, we saw the Iranian president looking cowed, and accepting to answer only one question. Maybe Columbia calculated that by breaking the rules of civility it would provoke a rebuke of the Iranian president by Iran’s the religious leaders. We’ll see what happens once he gets home.
Also on Wednesday, my idol Amy Goodman disappointed me when she pursed her lips over the question posed by co-host Juan Gonzalez to Bolivian president Evo Morales, a frequent guest. The two progressive journalists wanted to know whether Morales thought it was okay for presidents to be eligible for unlimited terms, and they were clearly disappointed when his answer failed to meet the rigid standards inculcated into them by a culture that values legal appearances more than reality, and which they appear incapable of freeing themselves from. Still carrying his egalitarian Indian culture around with him Morales answered simply: “If the people are satisfied with him, there’s no problem.” He then added: “But they should be able to vote him out if they’re not.” Many Americans, including the admirable team of Democracy Now, think our president and vice-president should be impeached, but since our congressional leaders have taken the notion off the table, we have to wait, while our soldiers continue to die in Iraq, for the constitutionally mandated moment when we can get rid of our leaders. (Nancy Pelosi is in fact simply more a prisoner of the prevention against doing anything that might translate the popular will than is Amy Goodman.)
In the Middle East, just as it began to look like this administration had finally realized the importance of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, up pops Saudi Arabia from the oil sands to require that Israel freeze all settlement activity before the Arab nations it leads will show up at the conference called for November. The idea is right and the demand is not new, but hopefully these spokes in the wheel are for domestic consumption. Otherwise the Saudis would be cutting off their noses to spite the Arab world’s face and the circle of violence will continue. What action would show that Israel has “frozen” development of settlements anyway? Who is going to verify that there are no hammers operating anywhere in the West Bank?
The headlines this week were about Myanmar, which news anchors are now careful to call Myanmar-formerly-known-as-Burma, in sudden deference to those who are getting killed to protest the military junta which two decades ago decided to change the country’s name. In a cruel twist typical of today’s international politics, China is propping up this right-wing dictatorship with an eye to Burma’s oil - at the same time as it sides with the U.S. and India on the issue of global warming. All three high polluting countries refuse to join international efforts to create a binding plan to slow climate change, under the pretext that it would hamper economic growth.
The world is caught up in a series of contradictory conflicts. In those like Burma and Darfur tyrannical governments are intent on keeping their people depressed while they fill their coffers; then there is the Judeo-Christian world against fundamentalist Islam, whose major tenets such as abhorrence of homosexuality and emphasis on traditional family values coincide with those of the Western fundamentalists who are its most rabid enemies on so-called ideological (freedom) but in reality commercial grounds.
And finally the conflict between the Western free enterprise fundamentalist governments and those of their citizens who are beginning to disavow the consumer society they promote, and who believe terrorism is a response to that society and the exploitation of other societies that it rests upon.
From what I heard of the speeches at the General Assembly, beneath the standard rhetoric there appears to be a growing consensus that cuts across the Western/Fundamentalist divide. It’s as though the remainders of the Cold War have finally dissipated, and the international community is no longer strictly divided into North and South but is coming together around an unspoken realization that ways must be created to solve the seemingly disparate problems enumerated above, regardless of the ideologies espoused by governments, at a time when ideologies have a way of overlapping in embarrassing ways.
There appears to be a growing consensus among the governing classes across the globe which has two aspects: the first and strongest is the recognition that those who govern, regardless of ideology, have certain basic things in common, as opposed to their respective peoples, and the second is that the United States no longer rules the world. Until now, the United States has relied on the shared interests of governing classes to implement its imperialist/colonialist policies. Now the rest of the world gets the point and is using it to isolate the country that refuses to see the writing on the wall.
Cindy Sheehan warns of fascism in today’s OpEdNews. Her indictment of U.S. history poins up the most useful question for potential primary voters, which is: which candidate will best be able to integrate the United States into the new world paradigm?