Colbert Report / Dpt. of State / Foreign Policy / Gov. Officials / TV / UN

The Most Colorful Ambassador

In a illuminating interview on the Colbert Report on August 15, 2011, the current US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, drew an curious parallel between the annual opening speeches on the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the famous Star Wars cantina scene. She did it in a joking tone, as expected from a show that runs on Comedy Central, but nonetheless it is revealing of the way that she sees her job and the place where she works. She pointed out that the opening of the General Assembly would be a sideshow in which the most colorful dictators of the world come to give their speeches. I enjoy a joke as much as the next guy, probably even more, but calling murderous and blood-thirsty dictators, such as Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Muuammar Qadhafi colorful is an understatement and blatantly offensive to their victims and their families.

The Star Wars cantina scene itself contains a dialogue that not as remarkable as the music and the aliens; in which the bar keeper yells at Luke Skywalker and C-3PO that they do not serve his kind there, referring to the droids. Luke and his droid agree that they don’t want to cause trouble and therefore the droid leaves the cantina to wait outside. There are a number of easy metaphors that one can develop with this short dialogue and the work of the United Nations, mainly considering the overt anti-Semitic tone of Durban III. But the aspect that I consider more revealing is the attitude of the Jedi amidst confrontation, when he simply folds and concede to excluding the droid. This is a behavior that can be parallel to Susan Rice’s attitude towards the opening of the General Assembly, let the colorful dictators have their time and try not make any trouble. This is exactly the position that allowed the least economic and politically free nations of the world to craft the agenda and the documents that are yearly approved on Turtle Bay. This dismissal of the UNGA and viewing its events as inconsequential that leads to the isolation of America in that forum, as pointed out by Schaefer and Kim.

Susan Rice shares the idea that only the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions matter to the world, leading to her assertion that America gets to decide on what we do and where we do. Nevertheless, down playing the UNGA has and will continue to have bad consequences for American interests and for freedom abroad. Most of the documents that dictate the tone of what we understand as international community come from the General Assembly, as well as most of the work that is actually developed at the Organization. It is the UNGA that defines the UN budget, sets the disarmament agenda, defines what the organization understands as human rights, works to set international law, negotiate agreements on development and a myriad of other issues. America has been treating the UNGA as an inconsequential bar for far too long at its own peril and it is high time that Foggy Bottom treats it with the importance that it has on this administration’s public speeches.

By Fred Ferreira