As world leaders took the podium last week at the U.N. General Assembly, we were treated to a lot of bluster and some theater, but not much assurance that the world is heading down a peaceful path. And there were many offending speakers.
In the case of President Donald Trump, had he been anywhere other than the United Nations, his performance might have been entertaining. But his taunting of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” along with his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea, abandoned all pretense of diplomacy and was more reminiscent of the combative challenges of Nikita Khrushchev than the reserved and modulated presentations of Dwight Eisenhower.
Trump’s remarks on Iran were disturbing as well. Even if the Iran nuclear deal is an embarrassment to the United States, as Trump claims, that is not a reason to let it unravel as the president seems intent on doing. Indeed, why give Iran an excuse to build nuclear weapons and join with North Korea in a nuclear standoff with the world?
But Trump wasn’t the only world leader to invoke caustic hyperbole rather than high-minded prose. There was also Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who while criticizing the Iran nuclear deal called on the world to “fix it or nix it” and somberly intoned: “Those that threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril. Israel will defend itself with the full force of our arms and the full power of our convictions.” We love Israel. But which of her enemies cowers at “the full power of [her] convictions?”
It used to be that, at least for Western powers, the General Assembly was not the place to issue threats. But that’s now changed, and it appears that just about anything is fair game.
Indeed, one day after Trump and Netanyahu spoke, Iranian President Hassan Rohani made his contribution to the world body’s rhetorical cesspool, characterizing Trump’s criticism as “ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric.” Coming from the leader of a country that exports terrorism, supports Hezbollah and has not moderated its genocidal position on Israel, the critique was laughable.
Finally, since neither Trump nor Netanyahu dealt with Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, it was left to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to do so. He urged the international community to work to “bring an end to Israeli occupation … within a set timeframe.” He then warned that if the way to a two-state solution were no longer available, Palestinians would “continue the struggle and demand full rights for all inhabitants of historic Palestine.”
So there you have it: In perhaps the most offensive of the belligerent speeches of last week’s U.N. spectacle, Abbas took the prize — as his challenge amounted to an endorsement of a third intifada. And while we find it hard to take threats from North Korea and Iran all that seriously, we worry that Abbas’ threat may actually come true.