This country is known around the world for robust protection of free speech. What changed in 2016?
I have this from the Times of Israel, Reuters, and Al Jazeera — I haven’t got around to The New York Times or the Washington Post yet, so I guess the president would say I’m relying on foreign “fake news.” I’ll take the risk, because the absurdity being reported has to get in line behind even greater trespasses on the normal practice of foreign policy by our government. The allegation is that this country, the United States of America, our country has denied a visa to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif requested to attend a meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
This violates a major reason the U.N. exists: to keep adversaries talking rather than shooting and, failing that, take every opportunity to dial back the shooting. While the visa was requested before the current unpleasantness kicked up by a targeted assassination, there is perhaps a clear and present danger that Zarif would make a complaint to the Security Council about our violation of international norms.
The Hill reported what I hope is fake news that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wishes to deny visas to Iranian officials “to prevent their ability to bring their message to the U.S. public.”
Say what? Explain, please, why the American public should not hear directly from our adversaries? Is the worry that our adversaries are correct or that our citizens are stupid?
A diplomat coming to the United Nations is not the same thing as a diplomat being offered as an ambassador to the United States. In the latter case, a particular individual can be declared persona non grata. The Secretary of State can reject his credentials, send him home, and tell his country to designate somebody we find acceptable. Any accredited diplomat from any nation is — or should be — allowed to make a statement to the Security Council, even if it comes in the form of a complaint about the U.S.
Remember Yasser Arafat addressing the General Assembly with a pistol hanging out of his back pocket?
Remember Nikita Khrushchev pounding on his desk with his shoe when he disagreed with what he was hearing from the podium?
Remember Fidel Castro in military fatigues engaging the General Assembly in one of his lengthy rants filled with Marxist jargon?
Remember Donald John Trump in an address to the General Assembly started to riff on U.S. domestic politics and made a brag about accomplishing more than any other administration in the history of the U.S. that resulted in his speech being interrupted by laughter? Oops.
If you accept that the whole world can have a “public interest,” please explain how that interest is served by keeping Arafat, Khrushchev, Castro or Trump from making a public speech. If either their presentation of self or the substance of their message is goofy, don’t we need to know that? Doesn’t the world need to know that?
When this country assassinates a high official in another government, is that government not allowed to make a complaint to the Security Council? Isn’t that what the Security Council is for, to settle disputes short of opening fire?
Granting a visa is not a seal of approval for the diplomat’s government. It’s not even an agreement to accept that diplomat as a representative to the U.S. It’s a commitment to the mission of the U.N. — primarily, keeping the peace.
I hesitate to step into the airy realm of political theory when criticizing Donald Trump, because I know The Donald doesn’t do political theory. But I must, in this context, speak up for the firstness of the First Amendment.
We think of the First Amendment as protection for the right of speakers to speak. After all, it protects “freedom of speech.” It may be as important, however, that it protects the right of the people — to whom the government must ultimately answer — to hear. This is why I’m so appalled at the U.S. government thinking there is some valid interest in keeping the U.S. public from hearing an unfiltered message from the leaders of Iran.
Treating the diplomatic corps of the U.N. the same way adds insult to injury.