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Reading the UNGA tea leaves

America’s enemies and adversaries reveal their intentions.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 19, 2023. Credit: UNGA/screenshot.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 19, 2023. Credit: UNGA/screenshot.
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Clifford D. May
Clifford D. May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), as well as a columnist for “The Washington Times.”

The 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly opened this month with dictators and elected leaders alike—the United Nations does not prefer one or the other—descending upon New York City to deliver mind-numbing speeches replete with misinformation and disinformation.

It’s called the “General Debate” but if you see the UNGA (pronounced un-gah!) as a great deliberative body, I suggest you consult a competent ophthalmologist.

Those concerned about America’s national security, however, can find morsels of significance in the word salads served up by our adversaries and enemies. (The difference between adversaries and enemies? The former intend to defeat us. The latter intend to destroy us.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend this year’s UNGA. He’s busy waging a war of conquest and subjugation against Ukraine, Russia’s neighbor and a fellow U.N. member.

Speaking for Putin was his longtime and loyal foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who complained about Ukrainians’ stubborn refusal to submit. In the best tradition of Soviet propagandists, he characterized their defense of their independence, homeland and families as “the extermination of Russians.” He scolded “Western countries” who “support this.”

Within hours of his speech, the Kremlin launched missile attacks against energy infrastructure in five Ukrainian cities. In the 1930s, Stalin created a famine to kill millions of Ukrainian men, women, and children. Putin hopes to use the coming winter to produce a similar outcome.

We can oppose such war crimes by sending Ukrainians the weapons they need to fight back. Or we can de facto condone such barbarism. There’s no third option.

Xi Jinping also skipped this UNGA. His ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is busy persecuting Turkic Muslims—with little or no objection from Turkic or Muslim countries.

He’s been crushing Tibetans, too, and stripping Hong Kongers of their rights—with serious opposition from no country and certainly not from that club of habitual human rights abusers known as the U.N. Human Rights Council.

In addition, Mr. Xi threatens to subjugate the Taiwanese. That is at least causing agita among both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

Xi’s stand-in at the UNGA was Vice President Han Zheng, who declared China a “natural member of the Global South” and noted that China’s Belt and Road Initiative now has over 3,000 projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He called for “global governance” in a “multipolar world.”

I’ll let you guess who would sit atop the tallest pole in the multipolar world the CCP envisions.

Supporting this goal is the Islamic Republic of Iran, which unambiguously regards itself as an enemy, not just an adversary, of the United States. How else to interpret “Death to America!”—the regime’s rallying cry for all its 44 years of existence? That many Americans refuse to grasp this is a puzzler.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi flew to New York City on an Airbus A340 operated by Meraj Air, which is subject (in theory) to U.S. sanctions for its ties to terrorism. While in America, he was afforded U.S. Secret Service protection and other courtesies he so richly does not deserve.

Raisi’s resume is especially bloody. One example: As a member of what was known as the “Death Commission” back in the 1980s, he facilitated the execution of thousands of Iranian political dissidents.

The Kafkaesque panel would ask prisoners such questions as: “Do you pray?” and “Are you willing to clear minefields for the Islamic Republic?” The wrong answer would lead—often within hours—to the gallows or a firing squad.

Raisi’s UNGA speech was triumphalist. “The endeavors to universalize American ideals throughout the world have proven to be failures,” he asserted.

Translation: A growing number of regimes are rejecting the very idea of fundamental rights and freedoms—values that, in 1945, the United States established the United Nations to defend and spread.

He reiterated his government’s threats to assassinate Americans in retaliation for the killing of Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in Iraq, and for terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East and beyond.

“The blood of the oppressed will not be forgotten, and the ropes of the guilty will bring them to justice,” he rather poetically vowed.

Thanks to President Biden he now has a burgeoning war chest to devote to such efforts.

Raisi blamed “certain Western nations” for the past year of protests within Iran that, in truth, arose in response to the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested by Iranian “morality police” for the crime of not wearing her hijab “properly.” The government has cracked down on the protestors, killing hundreds.

At one point, Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan stood up and displayed a photo of Amini. He then staged a lone walkout, only to have U.N. security guards roughly grab him by both arms and detain him. Some behaviors the United Nations simply will not tolerate—at least not by the envoy of the Jewish state.

Outside U.N. headquarters, hundreds of Iranians in exile demonstrated against Raisi, imploring the international community to help their oppressed brethren in Iran.

But the import of Raisi’s remarks is that a new international community is becoming dominant. He called it “an emerging order of non-Western states.”

It includes his Islamist regime, Russian neo-imperialists and Chinese Communists, in alliance with the despots in Pyongyang, Havana, Caracas and Managua. Expect more dictators to sign up over the years ahead.

This developing axis of enemies and adversaries poses a serious threat to America’s national security. But until Washington policy makers and legislators connect the dots and take a hard look at the portrait that appears, they can’t begin to formulate a coherent strategy in response.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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