Obama’s UN Speech

Well, what did we expect?

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

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7 thoughts on “Obama’s UN Speech

  1. Tut, tut, tut, my friend. Again you aren’t looking at the politics of this. You can’t seem to realize Obama is playing chess, not checkers. As president, he is to speak for the people. In America, the people are usually represented by the Congress. The Republicans in Congress, in order to undermine Obama’s political strength, have decided to cozy up to Netanyahu, in so far as threatening to remove funding from the Palestinians if they pursue statehood. Netanyahu was keen to keep his eyes on the pulse of the American electorate, whose storming in of the Republicans in 2010, has allowed him to make new friends. This has put Obama in a box and has forced him to reflect the view of the Republican-controlled Congress.

    Essentially, what is keeping the American government from being unbiased in the Middle East Peace process is not the president, but rather the American people through their election of Republican demagogues who are hell bent of doing the opposite of whatever Obama believes. I think Obama agrees with the international community with regards to Israel. But the Republican-controlled Congress doesn’t. That is why when asked by reporters if Obama agrees with Sarkozy’s position on Palestine, he responded, “No comment.” That response is not to be taken as a yes or no, although most people will take it as a no.

    If you really want the American government (Obama’s administration) to change its course in regards to Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements, you better elect more Democrats in Congress while Obama is still president instead of those insufferable Republicans who are nothing but butt whores for political power.

    1. And a tut tut tut right back to you. Your theory is all well and good, but you don’t realize that the Republican party is not the only ultra Israel supporters. Traditionally, the democratic party has been the pro-Israel party. This has begun to change a bit as the Republicans have been infiltrated by the Beck-like evangelists. You are right by saying that the Republican party is trying to undermine Obama by supporting Israel – that is true. But the democrats in Congress are just as uppity about this whole thing. If the American people want more equality on Israel /Palestine they are going to have replace the democrats in Congress as well. Support for Israel is a bipartisan thing.

      I agree that the republicans right now are driving the US into the abyss, but we cannot blame them for the unconditional support for Israel. We have to blame the democrats just as much (though it probably feels nice to simply blame the right.)

      For what it is worth, you are correct in saying that politics have a part here. I am sure that if Obama didn’t need to worry about domestic concerns he would come out and support the Palestinian bid and yell at Netanyahu for being obstructionist. But, he must consider domestic concerns (particularly democrats with elections approaching.) This is why I said the speech was like a reelection speech. It was an awful speech, but don’t just blame the republicans.

      1. I damn sure can blame the Republicans. And even though the democrats have traditionally been the pro-Israel party, that pro-Israel view has been seriously questioned aned debated within the left wing of the Democratic party since 9-11 (Obama’s base). I think the Democratic party has grown up since pre-9/11 days when it comes to who we should give unfettered support. The democrats have questioned support for Israel since 2006 when they won the majority in Congress, but Bush was president and they knew he would veto anything coming out of the Congress on this matter.

        Right now, we are at the mercy of a schizophrenic electorate (well, not really, just a lazy electorate–Democrats mainly–who sat on their asses in 2010 and didn’t go vote, and who only seems to come out every 4 years for the presidential elections). I believe that if the Democrats had kept control of the Congress, Obama wouldn’t have to give that speech, and would have kept the tone he expressed the last time he addressed the UN.

        I think it is shortsighted to continue to believe that US foreign policy, whether it be Democrat- or Republican-inspired, will always without question support Israel. As if, particularly the base of the Democratic party, they hadn’t studied the issues seriously in the past 10 years since Bush.

        You could claim, well when Obama had the majority in Congress, he could have done something then. But domestic policy was at the forefront and any foreign policy had to be put on the back burner. Maybe Obama thought he would win in 2010 and could remain steadfast, but that didn’t happen, so he had to revise.

        And now every damn body in the world is in a hissy-fit because he is not doing things fast enough for them or working on their grossly exaggerated and even unrealistic timetables. Obama is probably thinking, “Fuck all of ’em” but he can’t say that publicly.

        The impatience of our modern world, the need for instant gratification, is seeping into our politics to the point that nobody is good enough to do anything, and where everyone has to be scrutinize every second of the minute, every minute of the hour. Ridiculous.

        If they must, Palestine should go to the Security Council. But if the United States vetoes, so what? The Palestinians have other avenues to gain statehood beyond the Security Council. They could go through the General Assembly, which they have vowed to do just in case. But even analysts say that the chances of Palestinians gaining statehood through this is even slim. So obviously it is just not the United States that is keeping Palestine from being recognized. Many other non-European or less-powerful countries are as well. Why can’t you accept this fact?

        If Palestine wants statehood, they will have to convince a whole lot of countries beyond the western and eastern power players to be recognized. But this implication that their very existence is dependent on the decision of the United States is just bs with a capital B.

      2. Well, I guess we will have to disagree with the republican/democrat debate. Certainly, the republicans are using this as a means to undermine Obama – that I agree with. But can you give me a list of, say, 5 democrats in Congress who have presented an even view of the Israel/Palestine issue? Everything you said about the electorate may very well be true, but there has been very little debate in the democratic party about Israel. If you think so, please show me where. (There is one rep. from California who is retiring and another from Minn. but those are all the dems that I can think of that have challenged ‘the line’ on Israel/Palestine.)

        Secondly, only the security council can admit a state into the UN (thus giving it legitimacy as a state.) The GA can make recommendations, but that is it. That being said, 122 countries have formally recognized Palestine along the 1967 borders with many more announcing that they would do so at the GA. Tell me what powerful non European country doesn’t recognize Palestine? The vast majority of the world recognizes Palestine along 67 lines. Why can’t you accept that fact?

        As far as statehood being dependent on the US – I go back to the fact that acceptance into the UN requires a SC vote, meaning the US can veto it. So, it is quite the opposite of BS,

      3. Okay. Then I will respond like this…The question then becomes do the Israelis and the Palestinians want sustaining peace, or do we just want a state for Palestine? I believe that if you believe the latter, then it could be assumed that you don’t really want peace between the two people, but rather recognition. Recognition is more important than the peace. You want the symbolism and not the solution. Being recognized will not lead to peace within the region, which is the main goal. Palestine may get its state, but what guarantees that the fighting would subside in the aftermath. I think it will only get worse…more fighting, more attacks and more bloodshed by the rebels from each side. And another elephant in the room that hasn’t been discussed is Palestine’s leadership being heavily influenced by Hamas, a group that hates Israel to its core.

        I can only refer to our history in the United States between blacks and whites that have some similar threads of political maneuvering in this Israeli-Palestinian situation. Let me take you back, if you will, when southern blacks were fighting for civil rights in the fifties and sixties. I can recall the militants of the black power movement were adamant that peace between the “black man” and the “white man” will never occur until the black people of America had their own region within the United States. It was obvious to many in the Civil Rights leadership that these guys wanted their own land while still maintaining their hatred for white people.

        The militants had questioned MLK’s strategy of full integration as naive and stupid. They would say it was stupid to integrate with the “white devil.”

        Just think what would the race relations between blacks and whites be like if the militants got their way? I think there would have been a lot more racial hatred between the two groups, because eventually the majority of people from each group will start taking sides and would not have integrated at all, thereby reducing understanding. And when you reduce understanding, the route to peace is essentially destroyed.

        But hey, what do I know? I just have a penchant for historical strategies that work and those that don’t.

      4. “The question then becomes do the Israelis and the Palestinians want sustaining peace, or do we just want a state for Palestine? I believe that if you believe the latter, then it could be assumed that you don’t really want peace between the two people, but rather recognition.”

        What evidence are you drawing on to make this assumption? Are you talking about me or the Palestine people? Ok, hypothetically speaking, the UN recognizes Palestine. Of course there will be no peace. Israel will still be occupying Palestine. Palestinians will continue to protest against the occupation. Hell, take a look at the news from the last day – you will find that settlers attacked Palestinians and burned Palestinian fields in various places across the West Bank in response to the UN vote. As long as Israelis are given preferential treatment, remain above the law and continue to occupy Palestine, there will be tension.

        If Palestine actually becomes a state? And the settlers either leave and return to Israel or agree to submit to Palestinian law (this is likely to cause friction, as they are unlikely to do so) there will of course be a handful of people who still reject Israel, but that will be major major minority. Most people – including Hamas (who said they would submit to the will of the people through a referendum) would accept the Palestinian state along 67 lines.That would be like characterizing all Black people as the militants who wanted their own region.

        Or are you advocating for a one state solution? Where Jews and Palestinians coexist? Your point, my friend, is lost on me.

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