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All politics is local, episode 54,837

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Yesterday President Bush and Iranian President Ahmadinejad both spoke at the UN. It's not entirely accurate to say they spoke to the UN, since both speeches were so clearly aimed at their respective domestic audiences.

President Ahmadinejad isn't going to change the UN by telling its members that the U.S. shouldn't be on the Security Council, and he's certainly not going to curry favor with the international community by accusing the UN of granting "blanketed and unwarranted support" of Israel. His speech was aimed at bolstering the nationalist populism on which he depends for support in Iran. He wasn't elected because of his foreign policy views (economic concerns largely drove his victory), but since he has made himself Iran's leading voice on the world stage, he'll use that pulpit to portray issues as matters of national pride, of Iranian honor, to increase his popularity. Nothing like saying the whole world is against you to get the wagons circled -- like a football coach telling his team that nobody gives 'em any respect.

President Bush similarly aimed at a domestic audience, delivering more platitudes about freedom in the Middle East and admonitions against "yield[ing] the future to terrorists." This despite the fact that his administration has helped yield the present to terrorists. Even when ostensibly speaking to Iranians, President Bush hit the points he's made in the past few weeks of the "scare the American people into voting Republican" campagin, and I seriously doubt his presentation changed the ever-worsening international opinion of the U.S.

In fact, President Bush delivered a line that has got to be the worst advertisement for democracy in the history of the world when he asserted, with no apparent sense of shame or irony, that "From Beirut to Baghdad, people are making the choice for freedom." So if you're living in the Middle East, and you want to see what the U.S. is trying to accomplish for you, look no further than Beirut and Baghdad! Absolutely unbelievable.

It was a day of theater at the UN, not diplomacy, and another opportunity for real engagement, persuasion, or negotiation was wasted.

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