Officially, at least, Washington has not given up on trying to stop the development of the Iranian bomb. But, you’d hardly know that from what our officials actually do, no matter what they may say.
Take, for instance, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s latest trip to New York as president of America’s number one enemy, Iran. Like all his sojourns to our shores, this one was conducted under UN auspices.
Why do we allow this? The answer is, diplomatic rules and traditions hold that even the worst behaved countries must be allowed membership in the world body (because who is anyone to discriminate?), and that therefore the host country must grant visas to the various scoundrels that come to town for the General Assembly and other big meetings. This holds true even for officials from countries with which we do not have diplomatic relations—even for sworn enemies like Iran.
Does it make sense? I suppose it makes a certain kind of diplomatic sense, once you accept the premise that all states are somehow “equal” in that all are equally states. But think past that rudimentary tautology and the logic falls apart.
Think about it from Tehran’s perspective. Today, one of the world’s three or four most anti-American national leaders delivered a bombastic, intellectually dishonest rant—in the heart of America’s greatest city—that trashed the host country and one of our closest allies and lied about his nation’s actions and intentions. And he did so with the tacit approval of the U.S. government, which had the power to deny his visa but (as ever) did not. A real win-win for Ahmadinejad and his clerical bosses back home in Tehran, wouldn’t you think? How seriously can they possibly take us? Sure, the American, British, and French delegations walked out, but to what end?
No doubt if the United States ever did deny a visa for Ahmadinejad or Fidel Castro or his ilk to visit Turtle Bay for the UNGA, there would be a global outcry. Diplomats and editorial boards around the world would shout as one about American arrogance and would urge that, unless Washington came to its senses, the UN headquarters be moved somewhere more hospitable. (Maybe Pyongyang?)
But … so what? If we are really trying to use coercive measures short of military force to get the Islamic Republic to maybe think about changing its mind on the nuclear program, couldn’t we start with not giving our enemies a megaphone on our own soil? This is to say nothing for the moment of other travel restrictions that we could enact but do not.
The answer, of course, is that we are not really serious about any coercive measures. Instead, we prefer to console ourselves with fantasies. By doing the “right thing” and rubber stamping that visa every time, the myth goes, we show the world how open we are and influence Iran and the like to reciprocate by not developing nuclear weapons. But it's not working out that way. And it never will.