Portraits as Power

No surprises here. Claudia Rosett doesn’t like Iran very much. Chief on her list of grievances? That Iran — like just about every other country in the United Nations — has contributed a gift to the organization’s headquarters in New York.

In that lobby, by far the most prominent display is a row of eight portraits, framed in gold, and showing the lineup of secretaries-general from the U.N.’s founding at the end of World War II, through the current Ban Ki-Moon. But these are no ordinary portraits. Each is actually a silk carpet, and under the woven picture of each secretary-general, there appears the woven inscription: “Presented by the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

ban portrait.jpg

If Iran’s gift was “tailored to flatter the secretariat’s top boss,” then so was that of every other country that provided one. But in Rosett’s tendentious logic, the gifts are telltale signs of bribery, corruption, and extortion — attempts to ingratiate Iran into the inner circle of the UN. Its entrance in this inner circle is confirmed, in Rosett’s tinted glasses, by its membership in such exclusive clubs as the G-77 — whose members actually number 130 — and the U.N. Agency for Human Settlements.

Worse still is the fact that the UN Development Program — of the “scandal” that never was, yet never seems to die— dares to operate development initiatives to help the Iranian people. Along with those of 165 other countries.

Because Iran is a member of the United Nations and some of its programs, because some of these programs work in Iran, and because some of the gifts in the UN building bear that odious stigma, “the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Rosett sees reason for President Obama to “bypass the U.N. altogether” once in office. Perhaps she too should heed Max Boot’s advice against “reflexive…antipathy to all things UN, as well as give the other 191 member states of the UN a little more credit.

(image of the offending portraits from flickr user riacale under a Creative Commons license)