Once again, the UN is entertaining and that’s not a good thing. Its ominous meaning is that the world crisis is deepening, but in the meantime we are in for quite a spectacle. Hugo Chávez stole the show the other day, with his remarks likening the president to the Devil, crossing himself and raising his eyes to heaven in a performance that almost brought down the house. Yet his speech little more than a concatenation of epithets and windy proposals to "reform" the UN didn’t amount to very much. It was, nevertheless, an occasion for a lot of politicians and pundits to chime in with their reviews, mainly from liberal Democratic peacocks who took the opportunity to proudly display their "patriotic" credentials. Listen to that old fraud and blowhard Charlie Rangel give Chávez a Bronx cheer:
"You do not come into my country, my congressional district, and you do not condemn my president. If there is any criticism of President Bush, it should be restricted to Americans, whether they voted for him or not. I just want to make it abundantly clear to Hugo Chávez or any other president, do not come to the United States and think because we have problems with our president that any foreigner can come to our country and not think that Americans do not feel offended when you offend our Chief of State."
If Rangel wants to propose a mutual nonintervention pact with Venezuela, I’m sure that would be fine by Chávez. The recent history of American meddling in Venezuelan affairs is substantial, to say nothing of the long record of U.S. support for ostensibly "anti-communist" juntas and coup leaders during the Cold War era. But the problem with Rangel’s complaint goes beyond its brazen hypocrisy. One has to ask, why should criticism of the president be "restricted to Americans"?
That might not be such a problem if the American president would restrict his edicts to America: in that case, he’d be a problem for Rangel and his fellow Democrats to solve. Instead, however, this president and all of his modern predecessors have made it the business of the White House to issue pronouncements and even ultimatums to enforce America’s vision of world order. As the self-appointed policeman of the world, the American GloboCop is bound to hear complaints from his unwilling and often highly resentful constituency. According to Rangel, however, they ought to just shut up and take it.
Unsurprisingly, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi tried to horn in on Rangel’s act: "Hugo Chávez fancies himself a modern-day Simon Bolívar, but all he is is an everyday thug,” she shrieked, claiming he "abused the privilege that he had, speaking at the United Nations. He demeaned himself and he demeaned Venezuela.”
In the unlikely event Chávez equals Bolívar’s achievements the extension of a liberal revolution throughout South and Central America then that is better than being a hack politician out to score a few cheap points. Pelosi is right, however, in one respect: Chávez is a thug. But then so is our own president, and on a scale that dwarfs the street-corner bullying of a second-tier despot. Pelosi’s finger-wagging did not address Chávez’s critique, which discerned vaguely if unmistakably through the miasma of his ranting boils down to resentment against what he terms "the Imperium." And what about that, Ms. Pelosi? One wonders if she’s entirely incapable of imagining how much George W. Bush’s hectoring arrogance is genuinely hated worldwide, including in the West.
Yet the really standout performance in this edition of the "UN Follies," though overshadowed by Chávez’s theatricality, was by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His aggressively acerbic and very colorful commentary has provided plenty of grist for the pundit mills: here, clearly, is someone who has earned his place on The McLaughlin Group. He has a very keen sense of how to play the Western media, and his recent interview with Mike Wallace was just the beginning of a public relations blitz that culminated in his UN speech. Here he deftly deflects the charge that he’s a "Holocaust denier," in spite of CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper’s assumption that the charge is proven. Here he blames his chilly reception at the Council on Foreign Relations on the fact that this bastion of Establishment opinion is made up of government shills.
His UN speech was, at least initially, a paean to the growing power and influence of religion of all sorts and a turning away from "agnostic philosophies." Is he playing to his home audience, or to our own Christian fundamentalists? It’s an interesting speech, not least because he seems to make the same point emphasized in Pope Benedict’s controversial Regensburg address:
“Another hope is the common global appreciation of the sources of knowledge. Although reason, experience, and science are among valuable sources of knowledge, the darkness of the Middle Ages deprived major portions of the Western world of appreciating. This reactionary tendency deprived many of access to various scientific findings and knowledge and led to the exclusion of other sources of knowledge, namely God and knowledge based on revelation from the life of human beings in the West; Divine knowledge that was carried and disseminated by such prophets as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad (peace be upon them)."
This is precisely the theme of Benedict’s scholarly inquiry into the interplay between reason and faith in the university, wherein he points to the Hellenistic influence and the impact of Greek philosophy on the early growth and development of Christianity. Benedict would agree, one presumes, with Ahmadinejad’s contention that the exclusion of a religious sensibility from the rationalistic calculations of Western materialism has limited rather than extended the frontiers of human knowledge. I wouldn’t be surprised if, on this abstruse but theologically important subject, he consciously echoed the papal pronouncement.
Ahmadinejad hit all the major Iranian talking points: religious ecumenism, we-are-all-the-sons-of-Abraham, Iraq, the Palestinian question, and, most importantly, the peaceful intent of Iran’s nuclear energy program. He reiterated this at a press conference in the most unequivocal terms imaginable:
"The bottom line is, we do not need a bomb, unlike what others think. Regretfully, some believe that the nuclear bomb can be effective in international relations. They’re wrong, because the time for nuclear bombs has ended. We know that. These nuclear arsenals will not benefit anyone. They have to spend so much money destroying them. If the nuclear bomb could have saved anyone, it would have prevented the collapse of the Soviet Union. If the nuclear bomb could have created security, it would have prevented, perhaps, September 11th. If the nuclear bomb could have done anything, it could have, perhaps, stopped the Palestinian Intifada.
"Today is a time of thought and ideas. We know that and we felt that across the world.
"And let me say that at the same time, we are Muslims. And based on a decree given by the leader of the Islamic republic, moving toward having a nuclear bomb is banned and forbidden. Therefore, no one has the right to move in this direction. In our country, it is not permissible."
Well, then, there you have it: he’s publicly pledged not to acquire nuclear weapons, or develop a capability to create them. Ideas rule the world, he avers, not nukes. And Iran is backing up his words with actions: Iran, as Ahmadinejad points out, has given UN inspectors complete access. This stands in stark contrast to Israel, which we know has nuclear weapons, a nation that won’t even sign the Nonproliferation Treaty and to this day steadfastly refuses to acknowledge its membership in the nuclear club.
If I were an Iranian, I would probably be asking my president: So, why don’t you want to develop nuclear weapons? The Americans, after all, cannot be defeated, but they can be deterred. The Soviet Union did it until the socialist illusion dissipated in the sunlight of the emerging global market. North Korea is doing it today, albeit at a very steep price. Otherwise, an invasion if you believe recent press reports is practically inevitable.
Larisa Alexandrovna, writing in Raw Story, bears the latest bitter tidings:
"The Pentagon’s top brass has moved into second-stage contingency planning for a potential military strike on Iran, one senior intelligence official familiar with the plans tells Raw Story. The official, who is close to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking officials of each branch of the U.S. military, says the Chiefs have started what is called ‘branches and sequels’ contingency planning. ‘The JCS has accepted the inevitable,’ the intelligence official said, ‘and is engaged in serious contingency planning to deal with the worst case scenarios that the intelligence community has been painting.’"
After warning that a military strike on Iran would dwarf the strategic disaster now taking place in Iraq by several degrees of magnitude, the uniformed wing of the Pentagon is preparing for the worst. As so should we all.
The great danger is that this war will catch the American public unawares that it will happen too soon for the public to realize that the Democrats are in on this one, too. The Democratic response to this administration’s efforts to disarm Iran preparatory to an attack is to accuse them of going soft on Tehran: check out what Hillary Clinton has to say on the subject. Her fellow Amazonian warrior Nancy Pelosi is similarly bellicose when it comes to the Iranians. Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state under the Clinton regime, is typical of this breed in her reflexive and oddly emotional rejection of any rapprochement with Tehran:
"Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on Bloomberg Television that Ahmadinejad ‘is headed for a fall’ because he ‘is very cocky and seems to act as if the world is behind him. The Iranian people deserve respect, but the idea he thinks he might be able to develop some kind of nuclear capability, along with the cockiness, is something that is very scary.’"
Cocky? I won’t go into the Freudian implications of Albright’s word choices by indulging in cheap jokes about penis envy. I’ll just note that this is the same Madeleine Albright who once declared that the United States is the world’s one "indispensable nation" the same overbearing battle-ax who inquired of Colin Powell, "What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about, if we can’t use it?"
I’ll tell you what’s scary: the U.S. is barreling toward a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and, this time around, the leaders of both parties are revving up the engines of war. Calls for withdrawal from Iraq are no guarantee that a congressional candidate is "antiwar" after all, the withdrawal position is now the popular one to espouse. With a U.S. military strike a distinctly imminent possibility, Iran is the real litmus test and how many candidates from either party could pass it? Not many, I’m afraid.
Now that is truly scary. The regionalization of the Iraq war, the strong possibility that the U.S., not Iran, will use nuclear weapons in short, a cataclysmic clash of civilizations is on the immediate horizon. Where are the leaders who will lead us out of this morass? Where are the voices of reason in our political parties, and even among the "mainstream" punditry? Will no one stand up and say "Enough!"?
The great tragedy, today, is that there are no leaders of any stature, either in the political or the intellectual community, with the moral authority to make a difference. The war propaganda coming out of this government and its many supporters in the mainstream media, is slick, it is constant, and it plays expertly on irrational fears and images on a primordial, sub-literate level. They’re using the same imagery that worked so well in the run-up to war with Iraq: a mushroom cloud blossoming over an American city, and against this, the backdrop of the "mad" Ahmadinejad, the latest Hitler-of-the-month.
That’s why Ahmadinejad’s visit to America has to be termed an unqualified success. Because he sure didn’t sound like Hitler, or act even vaguely Hitleresque, in spite of Sen. George Voinovich’s ignorant blathering. Instead, he came across as reasonable, entertainingly argumentative, and disarmingly sincere, even earnest. No wonder the War Party tried to deny him a visa.
Just maybe, if the U.S.-funded effort to effect "regime change" in Iran succeeds, he’ll wind up on MSNBC alongside Joe Scarborough, or better yet, as one of Chris Matthews’ regular Sunday guests, perhaps the long-needed replacement for Andrew Sullivan. In an era in which the boundaries between politics and show biz are rapidly dissolving, the "medieval"-minded Ahmadinejad is on the road to stardom, one way or another. In that respect, he’s accommodated himself quite well to modernity.