Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking at the United Nations in 2005
Washington, DC – Last week, this column prognosticated that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance at the United Nations General Assembly would be celebrated by those who hate America. That’s certainly true. So, too, was the prediction that Ahmadinejad would claim the mantle of “humanitarian” and be showered with praise for the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal – the two Americans held by Tehran since they were detained on the Iran-Iraq border in 2009. And then there was the forecast that this week’s UNGA session would be devoted to bashing the United States and Israel, demanding “Palestinian independence” and ignoring the most serious threat to world peace: Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Harry Truman, the first U.S. president to contend with the vagaries of the United Nations, personally engaged in formulating UN Resolution 181 – the plan to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs. Thanks to astute diplomacy and careful planning by his two successive ambassadors to the UN, Herschel Johnson and Warren Austin, the measure passed the UNGA 33 to 13 on November 29, 1947. When Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, Truman became the first head of state to recognize the Jewish state.
When the North Korean People’s Army attacked the Republic of Korea in June 1950, Truman anticipated a Soviet veto on a UN Security Council resolution for using force to repel the invaders. He instructed Ambassador Austin to press the issue when Soviet Ambassador Yakov Malik was absent. The resolution passed. Though it took a long and bloody war to finish what the North Koreans started, South Korea was saved and remains one of our staunchest allies.
In 1962, the Soviets began installing nuclear missile sites in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy instructed Ambassador Adlai Stevenson to reveal classified U-2 photos at the UN. Historians describe October 14-28, 1962, as the closest we have ever come to a nuclear war. But Kennedy’s astute management of “public diplomacy” and Stevenson’s description of the missile deployments as “aggression” at the UN were key components in defusing the confrontation.
By the time Lyndon Johnson became president, the UN was fast becoming the anti-American forum it is today. Johnson’s efforts to use the international body to build support for U.S. and allied military operations in Vietnam – or to use the UN as a place to negotiate an end to the war – were ultimately scuttled, along with his presidency.
President Richard Nixon came to office knowing the UN was an “adverse environment.” He once told me he considered it to be enemy territory. “I didn’t care if they liked me,” he said. “I just wanted to be sure they respected the United States.” Nixon used the threat of cutting off funds to various UN entities to gain leverage on issues he deemed important. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush – a former UN Ambassador – took the same approach.
President Jimmy Carter was obsequious in every appearance at the UN. Bill Clinton was little better. Madeleine Albright, who served as Clinton’s UN ambassador and went on to become his secretary of state, was a vocal proponent of relying on the UN to deter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Her colorful zeal for UN effectiveness yielded nuclear weapons in North Korea and Pakistan and the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Mr. Obama has gone even further. His UN ambassador, Susan Rice, is a Madeleine Albright protégé. It’s clear from his remarks at this week’s UNGA session that the O-Team’s naïveté about the global body’s effectiveness and his legendary hubris are unabated. So, too, is his penchant for revisionism.
In his lecture at the assembly, Obama enthusiastically endorsed new “measures” by the UN to deal with Tehran’s nuclear weapons program – though nothing the UN does has any effect. He used the words “I” and “me” no fewer than a dozen times in the course of three paragraphs but neglected to mention his assurance that the six-month UN-sanctioned operation in Libya would “last days, not months.” And in a surreal description of what really happened, he said, “Osama bin Laden is gone, and the idea that change could only come through violence has been buried with him.” Try telling the Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden that it wasn’t a violent encounter.
Worse still, Mr. Obama appears to have been completely blindsided by the well-telegraphed effort to have the United Nations create an “independent Palestinian state.” His hastily arranged meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas did nothing to ameliorate the latest diplomatic debacle.
Protecting the American people from the dangers we face and salvaging American credibility from UN irrelevancy are presidential responsibilities. We should pray our next head of state is up to the task.