Thursday, September 24, 2009

Obama vs. Ahmadinejad: A Tale of Two UN Speeches

"The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest."

– Edward L. Bernays, The Engineering of Consent, 1947

We've seen this all before. A popular head-of-state addresses a crowd of diplomats and world leaders, speaking in vagueries and platitudes, expressing a desire to bring about peace and reconciliation, calling for international communication and cooperation. He signals out certain countries and warns of their intransigence and non-compliance, their disregard for international law, their threat to the rest of the world. He says nothing of his own nation's military aggression, its contempt for human rights and the lives of civilians, its support for dictatorships under the guise of promoting democracy. He defends his country's nuclear weapons agenda and encourages a racist solution to the situation in Israel and Palestine.

President Barack Obama, addressing the United Nations General Assembly for the first time yesterday morning, did all this. And no one walked out.

Just seven hours later, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a speech exposing the injustice and inequity of the current balance of power in the world. He spoke calmly (though all news reports claim he "ranted" and "raved") about the world's two opposing ideologies: one that strives toward global hegemony by maintaining the "predominance of its materialistic interests through spreading inequality and oppression, poverty and deprivation, aggression, occupation and deception" and one that "respects human dignity and seeks to build a secure world for all members of the human community, in which everybody can equally enjoy the blessings of sustainable peace and spirituality." Ahmadinejad stated that the latter outlook, rather than promoting financial greed, military power, and world domination, "respects all human beings, nations, and valuable cultures in defiance of all types of discrimination in the world, and commits itself into a constant fight to promote equality for all before the law on the basis of justice and fraternity, laying a solid foundation to guarantee equal access for all human beings in their quest to excel in knowledge and science."

In a pre-staged move of absurd theatrics, diplomatic delegations from various Western nations walked out of the Iranian President's speech. Others didn't even show up.

Unsurprisingly, Obama's speech was subsequently lauded in the press as being bold and refreshing, yet anyone who actually listened to it - and isn't brainwashed - would find little to be impressed with or enthusiastic about. Although the speech was regarded by the media as a break from the arrogant and rogue unilateralism of the bygone Bush era, Obama's calls for plurality and consensus wound up sounding more like the shirking of responsibility, justification for rampant militarism, and blaming world opinion on misunderstanding. Early in his address, Obama said:
"...many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust. Part of this was due to misperceptions and misinformation about my country. Part of this was due to opposition to specific policies, and a belief that on certain critical issues, America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others. And this has fed an almost reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for collective inaction."
Apparently, Obama believes that opposing the invasion and occupation of two foreign countries is something that shouldn't affect international opinion. Perhaps Obama is unaware that, due to the US military's presence in Iraq, two and a half million Iraqis have been killed, there are now over a million widowed Iraqi women, over four million orphaned Iraqi children, four and a half million Iraqi refugees who have fled the country, two and a half million Iraqi displaced persons still inside Iraq, and that, according to Iraqi, Arab, international and UN human rights organizations and agencies, there are over 340,000 Iraqi prisoners, detained without charge, in U.S. army prisons, the prisons of the Iraqi government, and the prisons in the Kurdistan District. (Even US occupying forces, known for grossly underestimating inconvenient statistics, admit officially that the number of Iraqi detainees in their prisons is about 120,000.) Nevertheless, Obama calls on the ungrateful rest of the world to get off their asses and do something instead of pointing fingers at the do-gooders who rid the oppressed (but then-still alive) Iraqi people of murderous tyrant Saddam Hussein. He didn't say where Iraqi widows should send their thank you notes.

Obama then proved his own ignorance of his actual job description, which is odd considering he took the oath of office twice. He explained to the delegation that "my responsibility is to act in the interest of my nation and my people, and I will never apologize for defending those interests." Actually, his responsibility is to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." No one bothered to point this out.

Additionally, Obama's insistence on never apologizing for the actions undertaken to defend Americans and America, echoes similar sentiments voiced by his predecessor's father. On July 3, 1988, an Iranian A-300 Airbus passenger plane was blown out of the sky by two missiles fired from the U.S. Navy warship USS Vincennes while in Iranian territorial waters. All 290 people on board Iranian Flight 655, including 66 children under 12 were immediately killed. Despite the U.S. military officially labeling the attack an "accident," the crew of the USS Vincennes was awarded combat-action ribbons and its Commander was specifically commended with a medal for "heroic achievement." While the U.S. Navy claimed that the crew of the Vincennes mistook the Iranian plane for an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet, a mistake that is literally impossible to make considering what those two aircraft look like, Iran's allegations that the warship was far too technologically advanced to make such a catastrophic error was dismissed out-of-hand by the American government. When questioned about the incident, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush growled, "I will never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don't care what the facts are!" It seems Obama doesn't either. Incidentally, neither the United States military nor the government has never taken responsibility for this unprovoked act of aggression and have never made an official apology to the Iranian people or government for the deadly assault on its citizens. Perhaps Obama is waiting for the Iranian government to apologize and reimburse the United States for making its military waste two expensive missiles.

Obama then proceeded to list some of his wonderful accomplishments, such as prohibiting torture, closing Guantanamo, respecting the rule of law, and ending the Iraq War [sic]. It seems that, according to Obama, the evidence that the United States still tortures its prisoners, the policy of extraordinary rendition continues, Gitmo is still open and holding prisoners who were never charged with a crime, and the on-going atrocities commited at the prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, is consistent with his claims. Of course, no mention is made of his unabated use of signing statements to rewrite laws, skirting the democratic process by creating and destroying laws with executive orders, the continuation of warrantless wiretapping and domestic spying, and the formalization of Obama's preventive detention policy, which pretty much removes the concept of habeas corpus from American society entirely.

Ahmadinejad, in his speech, pointed out that "bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan have not yet stopped; and Guantanamo Prison has not yet been shut down and there are still secret prisons in Europe." The delegates of Western countries, apparently uncomfortable with reality, began to shift in their seats.

Earlier, Obama spoke of helping the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to "develop the capacity to take the lead" in fighting terrorism and "working to advance opportunity and security for their people." With the death toll in both Afghanistan and Pakistan rising steadily, one wonders how NATO strikes that kill scores of civilians and deadly drone attacks that bomb funerals and annihilate 80 people at a time, it's hard to imagine what kind of opportunities and security Obama is speaking of.

And still, no one walked out.

Later in the day, when Ahmadinejad spoke of Iraq and Afghanistan, he took a bold step and told the truth, disinterested as he is with the American president's imperial sugarcoating. He declared, "It is not acceptable that some who are several thousands of kilometers away from the Middle East would send their troops for military intervention and for spreading war, bloodshed, aggression, terror and intimidation in the whole region while blaming the protests of nations in the region, that are concerned about their fate and their national security, as a move against peace and as interference in others' affairs." He continued,
"It is no longer possible to bring a country under military occupation in the name of fight against terrorism and drug trafficking while the production of illicit drugs has multiplied, terrorism has widened its dimensions and has tightened its grips, thousands of innocent people have been killed, injured or displaced, infrastructures have been destroyed and regional security has been seriously jeopardized; and those who have created the current disastrous situation continue to blame others.

"How you can talk about friendship and solidarity with other nations while you expand your military bases in different parts of the world including in Latin America. This situation cannot continue. It is all the more impossible to advance expansionist and inhuman policies on the basis of militaristic logic. The logic of coercion and intimidation will produce dire consequences, exacerbating the present global problems."
Still, frustrated Western delegates waited until they heard the agreed-upon buzz word before storming out.

In his speech, Obama also set his sights on Iran. He expressed his chagrin regarding how United Nations gatherings often become "a forum for sowing discord instead of forging common ground; a venue for playing politics and exploiting grievances rather than solving problems" and took a thinly-veiled swipe at Ahmadinejad - scheduled to address the Assembly seven hours later - by saying, "it is easy to walk up to this podium and point figures - point fingers and stoke divisions. Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles, and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actions." But hadn't Obama just put the responsibility for anti-American sentiment on those who oppose US actions, rather than on those illegal, immoral, and imperial actions themselves? I suppose it's easy to speak out against pointing fingers when most of the world's fingers are pointing squarely at you.

When addressing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Obama said that "all nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy...nations with nuclear weapons have a responsibility to move toward disarmament; and those without them have the responsibility to forsake them." Of course, no mention was made of nations that are not signatories of the treaty but have nuclear weapons anyway - countries like Pakistan, India, and, of course, Israel. For these countries to maintain nuclear arsenals, without allowing for inspections and safeguards, explicitly contravenes international law.

Obama continued, "Those nations that refuse to live up to their obligations [to the NPT] must face consequences. Let me be clear, this is not about singling out individual nations - it is about standing up for the rights of all nations that do live up to their responsibilities. Because a world in which IAEA inspections are avoided and the United Nation's demands are ignored will leave all people less safe, and all nations less secure." Obama then proceeded to single out two individual nations by identifying both North Korea and Iran as threats to nuclear stability.

Obama, by mentioning these two countries in the same breath, has achieved a masterstroke of propagandistic and disingenuous association. North Korea has actually tested nuclear weapons and, in 2003, withdrew from the NPT. As such, they are in violation of international law. Iran, on the other hand, has done no such thing. Having no nuclear weapons whatsoever, Iran has obviously completed no nuclear test, and, as an active signatory to the NPT has an "inalienable right" to utilize nuclear energy. Even though Obama claimed that he respects Iran's rights as member of the community of nations, he obviously doesn't agree with his own statement since he is actively pursuing the curtailing of these rights.

Meanwhile, one can't help but think back to Obama's very first presidential encounter with veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas in February. Thomas asked Obama a painfully simple question: "Mr, President, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?"

In response, the new commander-in-chief managed to squirt out this gem of obfuscation:
"With respect to nuclear weapons, I don't want to speculate. What I know is this: that if we see a nuclear arms race in a region as volatile as the Middle East, everyone will be in danger. And one of my goals is to prevent nuclear proliferation generally. I think that it's important for the United State in concert with Russia to lead the way on this. And, you know, I've mentioned this in conversations with the Russian president Mr. Medvedev to let him know that it is important for us to restart the conversations about how we can start reducing our nuclear arsenals in an effective way, so that we then have the standing to go to other countries and start stitching back together the non-proliferation treaties that frankly have been weakened over the last several years..."
Wrong, Mr. President. The correct answer, which you knew full well, was "Yes, I do, Helen. Israel has about 400 of them, is not a member of the NPT, and therefore not subject to any monitoring or supervision. This is offensive and will be rectified forthwith. Thanks for bringing it up."

But he didn't do that. And no one walked out of that press conference either.

Back at the UN, Obama decided to continue being disingenuous. "In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game," he said. "No one nation can or should try to dominate 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." If only he were telling the truth.

Meanwhile, Iran has said unequivocally, and repeatedly, that it has no interest in building or obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran has never "ignore[d] international standards," as Obama claimed. In fact, the International Atomic Energy Agency consistently finds that Iran has diverted no nuclear material toward weaponization. When Obama spoke of Iran's "pursuit of nuclear weapons," he is simply lying. When he promises to hold Iran "accountable" for sparking a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, he is threatening to punish a country for doing something it's not doing. When Obama announced that, "The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced," he must have been leaving out Israel, which stands in violation of hundreds of UN declarations, breaches international law on a daily basis by the mere existence of settlements, and receives unfettered support - financial, military, and diplomatic - from the United States and its Security Council veto.

No one walked out.

Yet when Ahmadinejad stated that "We [Iran] announce our commitment to participate in the process of building a durable peace and security worldwide for all nations based on justice, spirituality and human dignity, while being dedicated to strongly defending our legitimate and legal rights" and called for the "elimination of all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons to pave the way for all nations to have access to advanced and peaceful technology,” diplomats from Argentina, Australia, Britain, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand and the United States weren't around to hear it.

While Obama and his team seek to pressure Iran into relinquishing their lawful rights, in an obvious effort to strengthen American and Israeli hegemony in the region, the threat of sanctions, and even a military attack looms large. Meanwhile, Israel continues to build illegal settlements in occupied territory - a clear violation of international law - and faces no such similar threats. Obama claims that "America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" and yet does nothing about them. Israeli bombs fall on civilian neighborhoods with the frequency of Obama talkshow appearances and is not threatened with punitive action.

Obama addressed the situation in Palestine by saying, "We must remember that the greatest price of this conflict is not paid by us. It's not paid by politicians. It's paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the middle of the night. It's paid for by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own."

As such, the President affirmed the surreal perspective that innocent Israelis suffer from egregious and inexcusable violence and the constant fear of death from Palestinian militants while Palestinians are sort of thirsty and nationless? What Obama failed to point out is that the boy in Gaza does have a place to call's a place called Palestine that was ethnically cleansed by Zionists. Perhaps the little girl in Sderot now lives in the little Palestinian boy's grandmother's house.

No one walked out; rather, Obama's statement garnered booming applause.

When, later that day, Ahmadinejad demonstrated that he has actually read the UN's own recently released Goldstone Report by reiterating its damning findings to the General Assembly, it was too much for some diplomats to take. He spoke of Israel's forced displacement of a native population, its constant and illegal use of banned weaponry on civilians, the denial of Palestinian's right to resist an inhuman occupation and to defend themselves from ongoing Israeli attacks, and the mental acrobatics needed to cast the "occupiers as the peace lovers, and [portray] the victims as terrorists."

"The Iranian President continued,
How can the crimes of the occupiers against defenseless women and children and destruction of their homes, farms, hospitals and schools be supported unconditionally by certain governments, and at the same time, the oppressed men and women be subject to genocide and heaviest economic blockade being denied of their basic needs, food, water and medicine.

"They are not even allowed to rebuild their homes which were destroyed during the 22-day barbaric attacks by the Zionist regime while the winter is approaching. Whereas the aggressors and their supporters deceitfully continue their rhetoric in defense of human rights in order to put others under pressure."
But by this time, many had already walked out. Perhaps they had already read the United Nations Fact Finding Mission's findings and recommendations and don't like repetition. This is unlikely.

Furthermore, Ahmadinejad repeated his consistent calls for "Restructuring the United Nations in order to transform this world body [the United Nations] to an efficient and fully democratic organization, capable of playing an impartial, equitable, and effective role in the international relations and reforming the structure of the Security Council, especially by abolishing the discriminatory privilege of veto right" which allows five nuclear-armed nations to issue ultimatums to the rest of the planet.

He called for the "restoration of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people by organizing a referendum and free elections in Palestine in order to prepare a conducive ground for all Palestinian populations, including Muslims, Christians and Jews to live together in peace and harmony" and "putting an end to all types of interferences in the affairs of Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East, and in all countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe."

Naturally, his speech was condemned for being "disgraceful [and] unacceptable" and he was accused of "espous[ing] hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric." Which specific comments contained within the speech fit this description remains unclear and unstated.

Ahmadinejad articulated the double standards of hegemonic powers, who see themselves as omnipotent and treat other nations - particularly those that don't capitulate to Western whim and diktat - with arrogance, superiority, threats and violence.  He told the delegates,

"Some have taken the place of God and insist to impose their values and wishes on others. Lies have taken the place of honesty; hypocrisy has replaced integrity and selfishness has taken the place of sacrifice. Deception in interactions is called foresight and statesmanship; looting the wealth of other nations is called development efforts; occupation is introduced as a gift towards promotion of freedom and democracy, and defenseless nations are subjected to repression in the name of defending human rights."
Earlier in his speech, Ahmadinejad stated, "The time has come to an end for those who define democracy and freedom and set standards whilst they themselves are the first who violate its fundamental principles." After about 35 minutes, he closed with this:
"Long live love and spirituality; long live peace and security; long live justice and freedom."
The Guardian reported that "When [Ahmadinejad] finished, he was given a loud round of applause by many of those still in the chamber."

It's too bad the other delegations didn't stick around to listen to his entire speech. They might have learned something.


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