Long gone are the days when PLO leader Yasser Arafat showed up wielding a pistol, or Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on his desk. Nowadays the annual United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) opening ceremony is a confab of long-winded heads of state, lofty promises, and missed opportunities. It is perhaps the last place on earth where foreign policy is advanced forward in any meaningful way.
Having covered this opening session for the past several years, I have yet to witness a single important breakthrough. It is a pointless charade of world bonhomie and backslapping, where differences are papered over and nothing of substance is discussed.
The only headlines come in the form of harangues from Iran’s or Venezuela’s tin-pot presidents, whose theatrics receive way too much attention. (That said, who can forget Hugo Chavez’s devilish “it smells of sulfur still” comment about our former President?) Last year’s events were noteworthy solely because of the sideshow of Sarah Palin bouncing around New York, chatting up heads of state and mangling their names.
This year the only buzz has been generated by Obama’s apparent snub of Moammar Khadafy, by not inviting the Libyan leader to his annual reception for world leaders (ostensibly because of the recent Lockerbie bomber release). And this year’s festivities will be even less newsworthy than previous sessions, since they will be overshadowed by the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh.
Nor has Obama said much about how he would reform the UN. Take the General Assembly itself, a feckless body with very few actual powers (the General Assembly exists really only to oversee the UN budget and pass resolutions, which are mostly ignored, though some do get cemented into international law). The body is composed of 192 member-states, each with its own petty ax to grind, which inevitably results in gridlock.
The only thing more predictable than the UNGA ceremony’s dullness is the inevitable traffic jams that arise each year, thanks to the long convoys of limos ferrying self-important dignitaries around town. Were the leaders of the world to actually accomplish something, I might forgive them for shutting down Manhattan’s East Side.