I just heard the news: the United States has changed its mind about Jens Stoltenberg, the new head of NATO. The U.S. Congress has passed a resolution blocking his appointment. Apparently, during his youth, Stoltenberg threw stones at the U.S. embassy in Oslo. As such, he constitutes a threat to American national security, and Congress is rightly taking a stand.
Oh, I’m sorry, I must have misheard. It wasn’t the new NATO chief that the United States is blocking. Rather, it’s Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, who, in addition to having a suspiciously Bulgarian background, was a member of a Marxist underground movement in the 1960s. Congress doesn’t want her speaking at the UN, so they’ve revoked her visa.
Oops, my mistake, it wasn’t Dilma Rouseff. It was Chinese dissident Xu Youyu. Even though he is a signatory of the Charter 08 manifesto calling for political reform and democratization in China, he was a Red Guard in his youth, and we all know how dangerously radical they were. So it’s good that the U.S. Congress is unanimously blocking his entry into this country.
No, not Xu Youyu? Oh, you said Xi Jinping? Gosh, I often get those Chinese names mixed up. Well, of course, the U.S. Congress shouldn’t let Xi Jinping come here. He’s the head of the most powerful Communist Party in the world! He was a Communist in his youth. And his father was a Communist bigwig as well. Anti-Americanism clearly runs in his veins. We can’t let people like that into the United States!
If this all sounds absurd to you, well, you don’t know Ted Cruz, the grandstanding Tea Party Republican from Texas. Last week, Cruz sponsored a Senate bill demanding that Iran rescind its choice as UN envoy, Hamid Aboutalebi. Apparently, Aboutalebi worked as a translator when he was in his twenties, and helped the Iranian students who took Americans hostage back in 1979. Admittedly translation is a dicey profession— “to translate is to betray,” as the Italian saying goes. And I suspect that Ted Cruz considers bilingualism itself to be fundamentally anti-American (why on earth did that Aboutalebi fellow opt to speak a language other than English?).
But it was something else that stuck in Cruz’s craw. He felt that Iran was clearly rubbing the hostage crisis in our faces once again. “We, as a country, can send an unequivocal message to rogue nations like Iran that the United States will not tolerate this kind of provocative and hostile behavior,” Cruz said.
Cruz neglected to point out that Aboutalebi is an experienced diplomat who has worked in Iranian missions in Australia, Belgium, and Italy. The Texas firebrand, who would never let a bunch of foreigners tell America what to do, has seemingly forgotten that the United States hasn’t run Iranian foreign policy since the days of the Shah. But here’s the most important point that Cruz, who has a law degree from Harvard University, has overlooked: Iranians have a sovereign right to choose whomever they want to represent them at the UN, just as Texans have the right to choose whatever Ivy League meathead they want to represent them in Congress. And the United States has an obligation under a 1947 agreement with the UN to grant entry visas to diplomatic representatives.
If the story stopped with Ted Cruz, it would be only an amusing anecdote. But, unbelievably, Cruz’s measure won the unanimous support of both the Senate and the House. Unanimous? There was no one willing to stand up to bullyboys Ted Cruz and his ally Charles Schumer (D-NY)? Schumer, by the way, has already threatened to blow up the interim nuclear agreement with Iran by supporting a new round of sanctions.
Okay, so Congress is stupid, and that stupidity is bipartisan. But then the Obama administration, instead of reminding Congress that its scope of authority is limited to the territorial boundaries of the United States, actually told Iran that it wouldn’t issue a visa to Aboutalebi. Mind you, the Iranian diplomat wasn’t coming over here to lobby on K Street or something similarly nefarious. He was going to work for an international organization that just happens to be located in New York.
Iran has, quite rightly, refused withdraw its choice. Tehran is now pursuing a diplomatic solution to the impasse.
You might be surprised to learn that even North Koreans are given visas to represent their mission at the UN. Washington doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. Until rather recently, North Korea was on the list of terrorism-supporting countries. The visas given to the North Korean diplomats are rather restrictive—they can’t travel beyond a 25-mile radius of Manhattan (a distinction they share with UN diplomats from Syria and, yes, Iran). But hey, the North Koreans are still let into the country. I hesitate to write all of this, just in case Ted Cruz discovers that there are North Koreans currently in the United States and decides to sponsor a bill expelling them.
Sure, I can imagine a circumstance in which the United States legitimately blocks the entry of a UN envoy. I wouldn’t want a serial killer or the head of a criminal enterprise hanging out at the UN. I wouldn’t want an ideologue who denies the existence of the UN or warms to the idea of lopping off 10 stories of the UN building (oops, that was an American, John Bolton, who was a diplomat in name alone). Except for these extreme cases, I’d let all professional diplomats come to New York, regardless of their political beliefs or what they did in their twenties. Let them work at the UN, experience the multiculturalism of New York, and be entranced by the city’s excellent delicatessens. If an overstuffed corned beef sandwich on rye doesn’t make you pro-American, nothing will.
“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to,” sang Leslie Gore back in the 1960s. That’s how Ted Cruz and Charles Schumer feel about Iran spoiling their us-versus-them worldview by agreeing to negotiate over its nuclear program. That’s how Congress apparently feels about another country exercising its sovereign right to appoint its own diplomats. And that’s how the United States feels about the rules of the global disco. It’s our party—and if you don’t party by our rules, you’re not invited.
World Beat, Foreign Policy In Focus, April 16, 2014