The month of September has been rich in public speeches of politicians whose tenures in office are in their twilight. Not all of these swan songs turned out to be as beautiful as the one attributed to the legendary Mute Swan.
Last week, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, delivered a speech on U.S.-Russia relations. Given how little time she has left in office — and the speed with which she's losing relevance – this "Russian" speech may well become her last major public address.
I feel sorry for Condi for having had to deliver the speech: she has absolutely nothing new or meaningful to say. But the administration wanted to vent out frustration with Russia, and poor Condi had to go through a dull laundry list of Russia's perceived misdeeds: freedom rollback, gas blackmail, media intimidation, etc.
Interestingly, at the end, she was asked a question about Iraq and had to conclude her presentation with defending the administration's decision to invade the country. How fitting! No matter where she goes or talks about, Rice will go down in history as one of the architects, enablers, and cheerleaders of the disastrous Iraq war.
A few days later, Rice's boss, President Bush, flew to New York City to deliver his farewell address to the United Nations General Assembly. In contrast to Rice, who spoke to a friendly audience of the German Marshall Fund, Bush was facing a much more incredulous, and perhaps even hostile, crowd.
And this is too bad, because Bush delivered quite a decent (by his own standards) speech. He spoke about fighting terrorism ("a global movement of violent extremists", in his words) and epidemic diseases in Africa. Moreover, know for his disdain for international institutions and treaties, Bush displayed a rare sign of support of "multilateralism": "The United Nations and other multilateral organizations are needed more urgently than ever."
The problem was that no one seemed to care what Bush had to say about terrorism. Everyone was waiting for his comments on the ongoing financial crisis in the United States. And Bush finally delivered: "In recent weeks, we have taken bold steps to prevent a severe disruption of the American economy, which would have a devastating effect on other economies around the world." (The fact that by "bold steps" Bush meant a de facto nationalization of private companies, deserves a separate discussion). How fitting it was — again! – that the president whose fighting of terrorism has been a hallmark of his presidency, had to explain to the whole world how he was going to clean up the financial mess his administration had so effectively contributed to.
Later, at the U.N. General Assembly lectern, Bush was followed by the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In seven months, Ahmadinejad will be facing re-election, and the rumors are that he's unlikely to win the second term. So his address to the General Assembly might well have been his swan song on the international stage.
(Upon arriving in New York City, Ahmadinejad gave an interview to NPR. NPR is currently in the middle of the fall fund-raising campaign and is promising to its listeners "an intelligent and balanced analysis." Ahmadinejad's interviewer, Steve Inskeep, has shown none of the above. Instead, his interview was a combination of incompetence, arrogance, cheap gotcha journalism, and sheer rudeness towards his guest. Those who're really interested in Ahmadinejad's views, would rather read his interview with The New York Times.)
Ahmadinejad's General Assembly talk was a peculiar mix of references to "the Compassionate, the Merciful God", tough criticism of "a few bullying powers", insistence on "the inalienable right of … the Iranian nation in producing nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes", and promises of "a global community filled with justice, friendship, brotherhood and welfare" as foreseen "by great divine Prophets Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ and Mohammad."
In the meantime, as the Washington Post reported yesterday:
"The United States, Russia, China, and key European powers agreed Friday to press for a U.N. Security Council resolution that renews previous demands for Iran to halt its enrichment of uranium but includes no new punitive measures to compel Tehran to do so. "
In his speech, Ahmadinejad gave no indication that he anticipated such an outcome. Did he? I'm sure he did.
Another world celebrity, Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, addressed the General Assembly on September 23. Saakashvili was re-elected for his second term at the beginning of the year and, in theory, has three more opportunities to speak to the world forum. However, given his humiliating defeat in the Five-Day War with Russia, his presidency may be approaching the twilight faster than Georgia's constitution would predict.
Was this speech in New York City his swan song?