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John Metzler Archive
Friday, September 18, 2009

Yawns greet the potentates of autumn: Gaddafi, Chavez, Mugabe, Ahmadinijad . . .

UNITED NATIONS — Presidents, Prime Ministers, Dictators and Demagogues are assembling in New York for the 64th annual session of the UN General Assembly. Part of the Rites of Autumn, political leaders and diplomats from the 192 member states converge for the General Debate which provides a global grandstanding of policy positions, pressing initiatives, floating political trial balloons among the glad-handling which politicos do best. But this year, the setting is different, the debate and discussions take place as the United Nations complex at Turtle Bay on the East River is under total renovation; a construction site not necessarily building world peace but abating asbestos and moving boxes.

Also In This Edition

Lead off speakers in the cavernous General Assembly hall, still open for this session, are President Lula da Silva of Brazil, Barack Obama of the USA, and Colonel Mummar Gaddafi of the Libyan Socialist Jamahiriya. Other key figures addressing the assembly on the opening day will the Presidents of the Republic of Korea, France, Mainland China and Russia.

More interestingly Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad takes the floor amid global anxiety concerning the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program. American diplomatic initiatives aim to stop or contain Iran’s proliferation before it is too late.

Politically high profile dictators and demagogues visiting the UN session besides Gaddafi and Ahmadinijad include Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, his sidekick Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Zimbabwe’s Comrade Robert Mugabe.

Back bench delegates speaking later in the week include the Foreign Ministers of Belarus, Cuba, and the Burmese military junta. Despite this cast of unsavory characters being allowed to into New York to address the UN Assembly, the U.S. State Department sided with left-wing Latin American states, and has venally blocked the visa of Honduran President Roberto Miceletti from visiting New York, over concerns that he was not legitimately elected! Honduras, a long time American ally, has been crudely shunned.

Contrary to the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean diplomat elected to a five-year term, the Assembly President is a one year post, also based on geographical rotation. The election, or should we say selection, of this session’s President, is none other than long-time Libyan diplomat Dr. Ali Treki, a Colonel Gaddafi confident, who has had a long tenure both in New York and as Foreign Minister back in old Tripoli. Dr. Treki succeeds the lamentable left-wing Father Miguel D’Escoto of Nicaragua.

Just a bit of history. Over its six decades the General Assembly Presidents included such statesmen as Carlos Romulo of the Philippines, Charles Malik of Lebanon, Jaime de Pinies of Spain and Jan Eliasson of Sweden to name a few.

The Assembly Agenda is chock full of 164 items a which range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Over the next few months delegates will consider important issues of UN peacekeeping, human rights, economic development, counter-terrorism, the role of diamonds in fueling conflict, and combating malaria.

Then there are such gripping issues as “Question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas),” “Armed Israeli Aggression against the Iraqi nuclear instillations” (dating from 1982!), and the “Question of the Malagasy islands of Gloriossias, Juan de Nova, Europa, and Bassas da India (have they found oil?),” “Effects of Atomic Radiation” (not good), and the Situation in Afghanistan (I think we know).

My bipartisan favorite is “Observer status for the International Olympic Committee in the General Assembly.”

In a sense the global movers and shakers are doing an orchestrated diplomatic minuet around the movers and workmen who are packing, moving, shuffling and banging around the 39 story Secretariat building and soon other parts of the UN complex built back the early 1950’s. UN staff are being shifted and dispersed in swing-space around New York in a kind of musical chairs orchestrated by something called the “Capital Master Plan,” which evokes an old five year plan but will likely be much longer. Catchwords like efficiency, green-tech, and change are the modernization mantra. Charles le Corbusier’s once-impressive architectural edifice on the East River, has been turned into a harried worksite without spirit or a soul.

The 64th General Assembly is about to begin amid global anxiety, the clang of pipes, and the yawns of curious indifference.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for


One can certainly agree with John Metzler that the United Nations displays a surplus of inanities, which he describes pointedly in his current column. Yet, what else is new? Inanities are found in many institions, including many venerable ones in the U.S. and in particular in D.C. Still one wonders if John wishes to dismiss the U.N. altogether in deeming it to be a useless, vestigial organ or, as he suggests, a hotbed of irrelevance. For instance, has he forgotten that the U.N. also dispenses medical and food aid to the needy worldwide? Is it "irrelevant" that the U.N. has some two dozen peacekeeping operations going in hotspots globally? Above all, how does John feel about the fact that some wars were fought along with the U.S. in a united way under the pale blue U.N. banner? Among them the Korean War (1950-53) and more recently the Persian Gulf War (1991). Does the columnist dismiss those precedents as being of no value? Would he compare them to so much "Turtle Bay" flotsam and jetsam?

Dr. Albert L. Weeks      3:55 p.m. / Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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