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Anne Bayefsky

Obama's Dangerous UN Dalliance

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in The National Review Online.

President Obama's UN debut is fast approaching. But as he looks forward to his makeover as global conciliator and potentate, all the signs point to a train wreck that has the potential of making health-care reform look easy.

Two problems are putting a wrench in his plans: Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Libyan president Col. Moammar Qaddafi. Both are coming to the UN's New York headquarters in less than two weeks with to-do lists that don't include improving Obama's poll numbers.

Yesterday, Ahmadinejad called the president's bluff. In mid-summer Obama decided that when the UN met in September, he would become the first American president to preside over a session of the Security Council (the council's presidency rotates among its members, and this month is the United States's turn). Before Obama's move, the council's agenda items for September had included "nuclear non-proliferation - Iran" and "nuclear non-proliferation - North Korea." But after inviting heads of state and government to join him, Obama set a new agenda, described by Amb. Susan Rice as "focused on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament broadly, and not on any specific countries." The Iranian president saw his opportunity, and yesterday he announced that Iran is ready for talks about "worldwide nuclear non-proliferation" and "global nuclear disarmament."

Obama undoubtedly added "disarmament" to his council moment to impress a non-American audience. He didn't care that in UN circles it would be used to change the subject from preventing Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons to disarming Israel and the United States. Fine and dandy with Ahmadinejad.

Furthermore, on Monday the Iranian president said he has no intention of halting uranium enrichment or negotiating over his country's nuclear "rights." With Obama running away from naming specific troublesome countries - at a summit of world leaders, at the Security Council, in the middle of New York City - why shouldn't Ahmadinejad treat Americans as airheads who prefer photo ops too: "Nuclear proliferation - who, me?"

Meanwhile, the Qaddafi problem is getting more "sensitive," as Ambassador Rice has so delicately put it. Obama's idea for a summit meeting, which seemed like a harmless international diversionary tactic in the midst of a domestic mess, has the potential to become an image maker's worst nightmare. Libya is a member of the Security Council, and Qaddafi is looking for a hug (literally). So now Obama's people are worrying about how to avoid him, or at least how to keep the cameras away when Obama embraces a man whom Americans understand to be a human-rights low-life extraordinaire. The irony is that it was Obama himself who issued Qaddafi the invitation to the council summit.

The president may also run into the colonel at the General Assembly podium the day before. On September 23 Obama will assume the dais and wax eloquent about the glories of the United Nations. The fantasy won't last long, though. Libya is the president of this year's General Assembly, resulting in a speaker order that makes Obama into Qaddafi's warm-up act.