Every year, for one week the world’s heads of state gather in New York to participate in the opening session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The reunion has, however, lost its functionally constructive dimension and has become instead a televised spectacle whose significant moments are watched by an audience surpassed in size only by the Olympics or the World Cup.

The most-awaited speech is that of the U.S. president, invited to take the floor after the Brazilian president had warmed up the room. Always cordial, « Barack » made his entrance extending his arm towards Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, seated higher up on the platform. The Secretary rose and then nearly doubled over to grasp his hand. Obama is the only head of state who took the liberty of making that gesture. His speech, straight out of Hollywood, retraced the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens, killed two weeks earlier in Benghazi. He remarked that America is not an Empire, but rather an ensemble of free men and women who work and fight so that the rest of humanity can enjoy that same liberty. This "emotional moment" continued on to a "happy ending" with his statement that "… that history is on our side, and that a rising tide of liberty will never be reversed." His advertising slogans seem pitched in direct response to an article by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov which stated that he did not see History and Liberty on the side of those who destroyed Libya and attacked Syria. [1]

The debate that followed this spectacle was titled "Adjustment or Settlement of International Disputes or Situations by Peaceful Means." Contrary to what the title would seem to indicate, all talk was primarily focused on the war that NATO and the Gulf Cooperation Council deny they are fighting in Syria, the war France wants to fight in Mali and the war that Israel wants to have the U.S. fight against Iran.

The declarations favoring military intervention in Syria are grounded in the thesis of the "Arab Spring" : the successive waves of events occurring over the last two years in the Arab world have the same causes, express the same aspirations and therefore should culminate in the triumph of democracy and the market economy. However, the champions of this theory are not exactly neutral and disinterested. British Prime Minister David Cameron underlined the compatibility of Islam with democracy and a market economy by pointing to Turkey as a good example (with more than a hundred journalists and hundreds of high-ranking officers in jail and oppressed Kurdish and Armenian minorities, but which boasts "an open economy and a responsible attitude to supporting change in Libya, Syria and elsewhere in the region."

Then, having compared the turmoil in the Arab world to the epic struggles in the Americas and Europe for liberty and unity, the Emir of Qatar pleaded for the overthrow of dictatorships and the establishment of freedom of expression...he, Sheik Hamad, the very putschist who muzzled all opposition and the media in his country. Referring implicitly to the lessons drawn from the failure of his mercenaries over eighteen months, he called on other Arab states to give him military support to finish off Syria. For his part, the president of France requested that the U.N. establish a mandate over "liberated zones," as the League of Nations once did in giving France a mandate over all of Syria and Lebanon.

The Mali question was less of a caricature. The Prime Minister, Modibo Diarra, reminded his listeners that the terror imposed by Islamists and the secession of the North of his country are a direct consequence of the military intervention in Libya authorized by the Security Council. He in turn demanded that the U.N. now authorize an international military intervention to help his small army reconquer lost territory. France, which chafes with impatience since its intervention in the Ivory Coast, promptly stepped forward in the hope of reconstituting its zone of influence in West Africa. Doing so will require going to war against the very fanatics that Paris armed and trained to overthrow the Libyan Jamahiriya.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, described an aggressive and obscurantist Iran that represents an immediate danger and will be a global menace if it possesses an atomic bomb. To support his statements, he made multiple references to questionable charges, from the attacks committed in Thailand and Bulgaria to the plot against the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, all the while assimilating al-Qaeda to the Islamic Republic of Iran. "Bibi" also insisted that the world must choose between modernity, exemplified by the Jewish people and their Nobel Laureates in science, and medieval obscurantism represented by Iran (although he acknowledged that country’s sophistication with regard to nuclear techonology). The most ridiculous, however, was his use of a diagram aiming to sew confusion in the general public. He claimed that Iran had already achieved 70% of a nuclear military program, despite Teheran having only uranium enriched at 20% for civilian use while a military program requires uranium enriched at 85% and upward.

Other speakers elicited surprise. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disconcerted the members of the Assembly by unexpectedly reverting to the subject of the debate, forgotten by everyone else : the "Adjustment or Settlement of International Disputes or Situations by Peaceful Means." The U.S. delegation boisterously left the room while the speaker, interlacing verses from the classical poet Saadi, underlined that peace is obtained neither by Law nor Force but by compassion towards others and self-sacrifice. The supreme provocation: he reaffirmed his faith in a perfect future, governed by the prophets and no longer by those who have usurped their place.

A further example, the United States-designated president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, demanded the lifting of sanctions affecting Taliban leaders, not because they’ve become models of tolerance but because he would like to have them join his own government. What, then, was the reason for war in the first place? The Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihko Noda, startled by his daring critique of the sacrosanct dogma of the superiority of democratic regimes. Analysing the catastrophe of Fukushima, he observed that the institutions which represent a people can be illegitimate when they deprive future generations of their fundamental rights. Are such institutions therefore more legitimate when they abusively deprive other peoples of their fundamental rights?

As I write this column, the heads of state are continuing their march toward the podium. The response of the Russian and Chinese representatives, scheduled to speak later, is eagerly awaited.

Michele Stoddard
Information Clearing House (USA)


[1"On the Right Side of History”, by Sergey Lavrov, Voltaire Network, 16 June 2012.