September 24, 2009
And the Winner Is ... MoammarBy Amy D. Goldstein
Each year we have one -- some world leader becomes the stand-out speaker at the United Nations General Assembly for both his antics and his message: Kruschev with his shoe; Arafat with his gun; Castro, Chavez, Ahmadinejad. It never fails. This year's winner is ... Moammar Qaddafi.
Following U.S. President Barack Obama, Qaddafi stole the show. The question is: will anyone understand the import of his speech?
To Americans, Moammar Qaddafi is a buffoon. We pay more attention to his pitching a tent than to his rhetorical pitch. But, we should be listening.
To the rest of the world -- especially the developing world -- his words and actions have value and striking symbolism. At the United Nations, his country holds enormous sway in the non-aligned group, which makes up more than half of the body's membership.
Having worked at the United Nations for many years, it is clear to me that his words will give new strength to attempts to wrest power from the Security Council's five permanent members - the United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia and China. It is a campaign that countries like Brazil, India and South Africa have been waging for years, along with Libya.
However, now that Qaddafi has taken it up, expect to see new energy in this regard.
You don't believe me? Look at the Human Rights Council. With the leadership of Libya and other non-aligned countries, the United Nations reformed itself into an even more anti-democratic, anti-Western and anti-Israel body by replacing the UN Human Rights Committee with the current body, which holds more power in the international community.
Now, Libya wants to "reform" the Security Council in the same way.
From non-Western eyes, the call for this reform comes from a man who thumbed his nose at international law, carried out terrorism against the West, and found a way to be forgiven by the West.
Although there is an outstanding arrest warrant for him in New York, he comes openly and gets the coveted speaking spot after the American president.
Although he has killed Americans, he can pitch his tent in Westchester, New York.
Although he has taken responsibility for the Pan Am 103 bombing, he has secured the release of the only person to ever have been jailed for this crime -- and welcomed him back to Libya as a hero. What's more, he did so right before coming to the United States.
In the UN's own corridors, he is able to bully other pro-Western African nations into voting against their own interests of freedom and democracy -- along with his fellow African leaders from Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Understanding how the UN works, he brazenly tears apart the UN Charter - the basic document that UN member states agree to adhere to in order to join the international forum. Among other things, it outlines basic human rights as well as a country's right to self-defense.
We should not be surprised, however. He has never abided by these rules. In this, he is consistent.
Then, he positioned himself as the leader of the powerless and weak by calling on the developing world to overthrow the powerful nations. Qaddafi cites 65 wars that the UN has failed to prevent. Of course, one might ask how many of those wars were conducted against countries adhering to the principles outlined by the UN Charter by states or non-state actors not abiding by those principles. But, that would be beside the point.
Most importantly, he stated that the powerful nations who hold veto power in the United Nations hold the General Assembly and its resolutions in contempt. What he means by this is that he is calling on the majority of the countries in the world - most of which do not uphold the ideals outlined in the UN Charter -- to band together, overthrow the Security Council, and give themselves enforceable resolutions and the power to enforce them with sanctions.
In this speech, at this forum, with this message, accompanied by these actions, Moammar Qaddafi is making a play for leadership of the non-aligned movement within the United Nations. It is very dangerous, and yet will probably go unnoticed until it is too late.
What can be done to stave off this power grab?
America and the European Union must engage in active, steady diplomacy at the United Nations and in capitals - from the lowest to the highest levels - public and private, letting the world know about how much better people live today than they did prior to the creation of the United Nations system -- specifically due to the existence of the international body.
For all of its many faults and rampant corruption -- and they are manifold -- the UN has facilitated bilateral and multi-lateral relationships, development programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America and international standards for human rights. Moreover, without the United Nations there would be no World Food Organization, no UNESCO, no World Health Organization - or other agencies that actually do good works for people around the world.
Indeed, on the same day as Qaddafi's speech, Western countries banded together to defeat an anti-Semitic Egyptian candidate to head UNESCO, in favor of Bulgaria's Irina Bokova. True to form, Farouk Hosny blamed "European countries and the world's Jews" for his loss on the fifth ballot.
But that won't be enough.
It won't be enough because President Obama's administration has degraded American leadership in the world, and has positioned our country as a beggar at the United Nations instead of a leader. The current administration is just happy to be invited to the party, and believes that the force of the President's personality will be enough to slide through. It has no ability to neutralize the appeal of Qaddafi's siren song.
And, the big secret is: American taxpayers support this institution.
That is what Moammar Qaddafi's actions and speech at the United Nations General Assembly have proven. That's why at the end of the day, he'll be the big winner.