23 September 2008

The Unacknowledged Legislature of the World (But Don't Look For Poetry)

Another autumn brings another session of the United Nations General Assembly, and with it the world's more talkative leaders to New York City to sound off on the issues of the day. Among these once again is President Ahmadinejad of Iran, whose remarks can be read in full here. His comments are predictable enough, and predictably earned denunciations from Senator Obama, Governor Palin (who ignorantly called the Iranian a "dictator") and everyone in between. His alleged anti-Semitism is old news, but what appalled me was the frankly evangelical character of much of his speech. He makes President Bush sound like a secular humanist.

Speaking of whom ... his speech delineates a different world than the Iranian. Where Ahmadinejad sees a clique of bullies hoarding resources, imposing their will on others, and failing to show "obeisance to God," Bush sees a benign world threatened by terrorist aggression. It's the terrorists, not the great powers, who seek to impose their will on people. Bush remains convinced that the terrorists are trying to wait him or his country out, and are poised to strike if our resolve wavers. He assumes that "the terrorists" subscribe to an ideology opposed to religious freedom, women's rights, and dissent. For extra measure, he condemns the "self-serving condescension" (on whose part?) that "question[s] whether people in certain parts of the world actually desire freedom." The various "color" revolutions, including Georgia's, are hailed to prove the contrary, which leads into a defense of Georgia's territorial integrity, with no mention, of course, of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. To sum up, Bush has learned nothing in seven years, but he still sounds marginally more civilized, as a person if not a statesman, than his Iranian counterpart.

For your added amusement, here's the speech by President Saakashvili of Georgia, whining about those mean old Russians and promising a "second Rose Revolution" to make his country still more democratic (it has a long way to go, from what I've read) and still more worthy of NATO membership and UN support against a permanent Security Council member with veto power. He rails on about how separatism is a bad thing, as if the wars against Yugoslavia hadn't happened a decade ago and that country hadn't been dismembered to the stormy applause of the West. Saakashvili was going to solve all his country's ethnic problems, we're assured, all of which, apparently, were caused by Russian provocation. Again, there's nothing new here if you've followed the story, but some people do like to talk.

It was Percy Shelley who called poets the "unacknowledged legislators" of the world. I know he meant something different, but I've heard poets who certainly acted like self-acknowledged legislators. The General Assembly is a forum with little real authority, an unacknowledged legislature in its own fashion that provides a bully pulpit for essentially the same flights of rhetoric you might expect from some "people's poet" ranting on a street corner. There's a lot of sloganeering and self-righteousness but little lyrical about any of it. Maybe something gets lost in translation, but from the likes of Ahmadinejad or Saakashvili, I doubt it,and from the likes of Bush, translated from speechwriterese, I know it's hopeless. If this is what world government looks like, it doesn't inspire much confidence in the future.

No comments: