10/02/2012 12:42 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2012

Drifting World

There was abundant goodwill but limited leadership during ten days of a General Debate at the U.N. Assembly that started September 25. A habitual contender, the President of the U.S., did not pretend to try this year. President Obama sort of dropped by, made a statement geared mainly to an American audience and left. He did not even stay for the traditional lunch where, on behalf of all heads of state and government, he would pronounce the main toast. Another option, under the rallying banner of "Francophonie" would be France. But its newly elected president, Francois Hollande, who made being "normale" his main image theme, acted accordingly. The populist South African President Jacob Zuma looked somewhat subdued after a tragic mining crisis in his country. Brazil's tough and competent Dilma Rousseff, who demanded a Security Council permanent seat, is generally admired but not widely recognized yet. The new heads of the so called Arab Spring counties are actually old exhausted men trying to cope with suspicious public opinion abroad and angry women and youth at home. Egypt's President Morsi, who made a notably solid presentation, is developing his role in a sensitive region. Russia's Putin was not there. Absent also was Turkey's Recep Erdogan who was in Istanbul declaring himself Ottoman Sultanate looking forward to commemorate the fall of Byzantium in 2071! That meant that his country's membership in the European Union was not forthcoming, let alone universal leadership! Hamid Karzai, once the darling of mainstream media to the point of analyzing his Afghani robes looked desolately lonely as he spoke to almost no one at 8:35 p.m.

Clearly, there was no Nelson Mandela; no Pierre Trudeau or Lech Walesa; no J.F .Kennedy; looking way back, no Nehru or U Thant; certainly no Dag Hammarskjold.

Incidentally, after President Obama finished his speech at the Assembly, the meeting's chairman and the U.N. Secretary General were expected to shake his hand and return. Instead they disappeared with him. The podium was left unattended for 18 minutes. Puzzled delegates from 193 countries first started exchanging whispers, then louder conversations across rows as a variety of cellphones were produced. Some, like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe slumped in his chair. Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifah, Emir of Qatar was glad to find his stunning wife, Sheikha Mozah, next to him. Nervous Libyans looked more nervous. Puzzled Albanians looked more puzzled. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan did not seem to notice. As a heavy-set delegate with a thick briefcase ran around in circles desperately seeking to find his place, a veteran observer noted that the confused scene somehow symbolized our drifting leaderless world.

At this crucial period, there is not one single national leader commanding a truly international appeal. It may be a sign of our anxious uncertain times. By the way, an innocent yet indicative electronic signal at the highways leading to Manhattan during the General Debate announced: "U.N. Meeting. Expect Delays."

Expect more of the same-for a while. But hold on to your dreams.