One could have easily predicted what Obama was going to say at the UN. Hooray for the fall of dictators; Iran is evil; doesn’t everyone love Israel; change can happen, guys! It is a pretty trite storyline that predictively had very little substance to it. And, of course, that is not the fault of Obama. The President’s speech at the UNGA has always been an exercise in ideological cheerleading. A couple of things that did strike me though:
– Obama had some very strong words regarding Syria, calling for UN sanctions (won’t happen, though.):
Already, the United States has imposed strong sanctions on Syria’s leaders. We have supported a transfer of power that is responsive to the Syrian people. Many of our allies have joined us in this effort. But for the sake of Syria – and the peace and security of the world – we must speak with one voice. There is no excuse for inaction. Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime, and to stand with the Syrian people.
The US is strongly pushing for UN action in Syria, but it simply won’t happen with Russia and China firmly opposed to a second Libya. But it is good to see the President take a strong stand with the people — as opposed to…
– Obama’s words regarding the Israel/Palestine issue were unsurprising. After spending the first half of his speech talking about the importance of the UN in standing for the rights of the people in South Sudan, Libya, Cote d’Ivoire and other places, Obama spins a 180 and lectures the assembly on how the international body is not the correct place to discuss how to resolve disputes between international actors. Whoops.
Best reaction award goes to Andrew Exum for his comment following these Obama words:
America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they were.
These facts cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.
Exum writes: “What percentage of the words in these previous two paragraphs will go unappreciated by the Netanyahu [CK: ie the Ahmadinejad of Israeli politics] government? 90%? 95%? I’m going to be bold and say 100%.” Obama will get no love from Israel for his devotion and the PA saw the speech as a ‘stab in the back.‘ Oh to be young and a president tethered to the interests of another country…
In any event, this speech was predictable and generally useless (a “pretty good domestic reelection campaign speech.”) The amount of time Obama spent on the Middle East is a reflection of how important that region – and its ongoing evolution – is to the world and – more importantly – to the US. Yet the quick overview of where American policy is concerning the events in the region is a easy to follow guide for how to lose credibility. Aside from the Israel/Palestine debacle, Obama glossed over the ongoing oppression in Bahrain (where are your sanctions and condemnations?) and completely neglected to mention the abuse of rights by the Gulf allies.
Edit: Matt Duss chimes in:
While Obama made a stirring and important statement regarding the security threats with which Israel lives, he made no similar statement about the Palestinians, nor any recognition that it is Palestinians, not Israelis, who are living under military occupation. And he certainly gave nothing to the Palestinian leadership that might help them justify to their public the sort of stand-down that he’s been pressuring them for. It’s hard to see how already-embattled Palestinian moderates don’t come away from the UN weaker and with even less political legitimacy than they had before. That is, to say the least, not a good thing for the goal of two states.
Having repeatedly and rightly declared the status quo in Israel-Palestine “unsustainable,” the administration’s efforts at the UN this past week, capped off by the president’s speech today, appeared as little more than an effort to preserve that status quo, at significant diplomatic expense and at considerable cost to America’s global standing. It was, in other words, probably the best demonstration possible for why the Palestinians decided to go to the UN in the first place.
Photo from Time