The General Assembly was in a tremble-y as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran addressed the UN Wednesday morning. The members were awaiting another fireworks display. The United States and Israel had preemptively boycotting the speech. The United States delegation had even gone so far as to say that it was a shame that Iran was allowed to speak on the high holy day of Yom Kippur. In addition to these preemptive measures, the European delegations were on standby to carry out their tradition of walking out of the speech once the Iranian leader denied the Holocaust.
However, Ahmadinejad disappointed. Instead of lambasting Israel and calling for the world to respect the nuclear program of the Islamic Revolutionary State, Ahmadinejad’s address focused on spiritual and moral themes.
There were a few veiled accusations in his speech. He argued that the international media is not so fair and balanced when it comes to covering Israel and the “Zionists”. He also criticized, indirectly, America for spending billions of dollars on elections. Also, he lumped himself into the “Occupy” movement when he said that the problem with the world geopolitically and economically is that all the power and capital is located in the hands of a few self-proclaimed great powers.
But that was it. Instead he focused on spiritual and moral affairs. The big concern was trying to make the world a more equitable place to live. He called for reform in the UN so that the small countries would have a chance. Also, he propped up the non-aligned movement, a Cold War movement where smaller countries remained neutral on both NATO and Warsaw Pact.
The big theme was a call for a fairer world order than the current system. To this end, Ahmadinejad believes the best hope for this is the return of the long anticipated savior by all people of faith. Particularly, he believes the return of the Mahdi (In Shia Islam the Mahdi is the missing rightful heir to the Profit Mohamed.) will bring about a utopian world.
There were also some nationalist overtones in his speech. Ahmadinejad did sing the praises of the Iranian people. He called them partial founders of human civilization.
All in all a very lack luster performance by Ahmadinejad. Usually his speech’s, just like most Muslim leaders, follow a general formula. The speech opens with religious and moral concerns and is then followed up by focusing on temporal issues, namely politics. But the second half was missing. It was not unlike the “Monday Night Miracle” where the Miami Dolphins defense allowed the New York Jets to have the second largest come back in NFL history by not showing up in the second half.
What is especially interesting, this was his last speech to the assembly. With Iranian elections early next year and Ahmadinejad already serving his two maximum terms as president of Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary State will have a new man speaking from the green marble podium next year.
This brings us to the heart of the matter. In the Iranian political system, the president is not the boss. There several political-religious bodies that out rank him. It would make sense, someone who has been groomed for leadership to rise through the ranks and help bridge the divide between the old guard of the Clerics and the new cadre of the lay leaders.
Also, one must consider that Ahmadinejad is a survivor. The preamble to the Arab spring was against him and he survived. Over the past several years with political infighting in Iran, Ahmadinejad did not go down with the ship. It is not that much of a stretch to see Ahmadinejad moving up the Iranian bureaucracy. It is harder to see him go into retirement.
But Ahmadinejad was not the only one who was targeting a domestic audience with his address to the UN General Assembly. President Barack Obama addressed the UN Tuesday morning. His speech, as well, can be seen geared for his domestic audience. It is actually better to describe his speech as a campaign stump speech than an actual foreign policy talk.
The big shift in Obama’s language over his first term were calls for standing strong against Iran. Particularly, he warned Iran that there was still time to negotiate on the Islamic Revolutionary State’s nuclear program, but time is running out for a peaceful solution. Further, Obama condemned Iran of supporting Syria. Syria, currently butchering its people in a violent civil war, is largely isolated from the world except for Iran. According to the American President, Iran’s actions have led to the deaths of innocents seek their natural right to freedom.
At this point Obama segwayed into a so called accomplishment of his, the Arab Spring. In language that sound surprisingly similar to Neo-Con rhetoric, Obama said that freedom and democracy were the ultimate goals of humanity. The Arab Spring in his opinion was the Arab world seeking the natural evolution of man to its highest form. Additionally Obama warned that the leaders and revolutionaries alike in the Arab Spring must respect what he called “innocent Muslims”. By this he means the general masses who are not involved in the Arab Spring and just wished to peacefully live their lives. Obama went on to tout Libya, Yemen and Egypt as foreign policy victories.
This was simply Obama highlighting the best portfolio in his administration. He was trying to come of as a great leader in the international system. He wanted to appear strong on these issues for his reelection bid in November.
So the two speeches most anticipated for dynamism from the UN this week, actually give us little insight to the dynamics currently directing the international system. In short they were let downs. All there can be gleaned from these speeches is that domestic whims trump foreign policy concerns.