Just before he spoke today to the United Nations General Assembly, George W. Bush sent a discreet message to both the United Nations and the US Congress by quietly withholding payments, for the fifth consecutive year, to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. The health of hundreds of thousands of women and children will be impaired–and many lives lost–as a result of his pandering to the most prejudiced elements of his conservative constituency.
Missing from this year’s speech was some of the snide innuendo and challenge of Bush’s previous comments on the United Nations, perhaps reflecting some injection of reality into his unilateral worldview. This time around, the President also refrained from making ultimatums to the assembled delegations threatening action if they did not go along with his Administration’s ideas of what was good for them.
Bush’s message was mainly addressed to the ostensible silent majority of moderates in the Middle East. But his words were as cushioned from the cruelty of the real world as one would expect from an Administration that is making Panglossianism a state religion.
Up to a point, the President was in harmony with Secretary General Kofi Annan’s address to the General Assembly, in that both dwelt on the Middle East. But while Annan identified the core of many of the problems in the Middle East, Bush’s simplistic assessment of “the bright future in the broader Middle East” was such a caricature as to leave some listeners chuckling. Neither the elections in Egypt, nor the municipal elections in Saudi Arabia that he trumpeted, offer any conclusive evidence of the march of democracy.
“Some have argued that the democratic changes we’re seeing in the Middle East are destabilizing the region. This argument rests on a false assumption, that the Middle East was stable to begin with,” he said. In fact, his argument is against himself: Most of his critics will adduce that the actual and threatened military intervention of the United States and Israel are not infusions of democracy but destabilizing forces in and of themselves.
But Annan had a firmer grip on the truth in his address to the Assembly that preceded the President’s. “As long as the Security Council is unable to end this [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, and the now nearly forty-year-old occupation, by bringing both sides to accept and implement its resolutions, so long will our impartiality be questioned,” he said. “So long will our best efforts to resolve other conflicts be resisted, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Bush’s invocation of the envoys of Iraq and Afghanistan seated in the General Assembly as representing elected governments, compared to when he spoke five years ago, may be accurate. But he was silent on the powerlessness of those governments to actually govern. The Lebanese in particular are unlikely to recognize his depiction of their “homes and communities…caught in the crossfire”–in light of the Bush-supported blitz that was actually mounted against their country. “We see your suffering,” the President said, but he failed to explain why he did nothing to stop it for a long month of bombing and shelling from Israel.