President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations had more than a few elements of a domestic campaign stump speech. Indeed, after a few opening obligatory remarks about the history and ideals of the U.N., the President quickly launched into a detailed account of his record in office – ending the military operation in Iraq, transitioning more responsibility to Afghan authorities, and killing Osama bin Laden – clearly aimed at American voters.
Even when the President moved on to highlight the accomplishments of the U.N. he did so in a way that suggested self congratulation.
- He mentioned the independence of South Sudan (a notable event in which the U.S. played a key supporting role), but failed to mention the ongoing violence and repression in Darfur (where the Administration seems lost).
- He unjustifiably put the U.S. ahead of Nigeria and France when identifying those countries who led the Security Council response to violence in the Ivory Coast when, in truth, the U.S. played a far lesser role in that effort than either of those countries.
- By listing the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in the middle of his list of U.N. actions over the past year, he unjustifiably implied an important United Nations role and by extension one for the U.S., when, in fact, these events were organic and domestic.
- He crowed over the Libya intervention as an exemplar of U.N. intervention while ignoring that the delay resulting from going through the U.N. nearly spelled doom for the Libyan rebels and this was hardly an example of unified U.N. action as the resulting military actions by NATO were widely condemned as violating the terms of the Security Council resolutions.
Obama also took the opportunity to congratulate himself for sanctions on Syria while chastising the U.N. Security Council for failing to follow suit. But, again, the President conveniently ignored his administration’s long flirtation with President Bashir (falsely believing him to be a reformer) and the fact that the administration’s controversial interpretation of the Libyan resolutions has made other Security Council members leery of any Security Council resolution on Syria lest it be used to justify NATO future action.
President Obama proffered a more robust defense of Israel than has been his want, perhaps driven by a desire to bolster waning support among American Jewish voters. Even so, he still maintained a false moral equivalence between the Palestinians and Israel, stating, “That truth – that each side has legitimate aspirations – is what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in each other’s shoes.”
At this point, the President’s speech ventured into the mind numbing territory generally monopolized by tedious State of the Union speeches. He began a box ticking exercise in rapid fashion stating U.S. commitment to arms control, non-proliferation, development, humanitarian assistance, international health, global warming, gay and lesbian rights, and women’s rights. The addition of these issues after the discussion of Israel and Palestine, which is undeniably the focus of the meetings this week, was anticlimactic and had the effect of minimizing them. They seemed tacked on and mentioned simply out of obligation rather than from conviction of their importance.
The speech was simply wrong for the venue. The President appeared at times during the first half of the speech to pause as if expecting applause, but unlike previous years, was greeted with silence. The audience seemed to know that the President wasn’t really talking to them and reacted accordingly.