President Barack Obama’s speech to the UNGA on September 23 was revealing on
Indeed, I learned something very important about his
He began by discussing terrorism as if it is carried out
by faceless, causeless mystery men who have no sponsors, ideology or goals and
attack everyone equally.RELATED:Obama, Ban Ki-moon, condemn Ahmadinejad’s 9/11 commentsAl Qaeda in Iraq takes responsibility for Baghdad bombings
Obama explained: “Nine years ago, the
destruction of the World Trade Center signaled a threat that respected no
boundary of dignity or decency. Two years ago this month, a financial crisis on
Wall Street devastated American families on Main Street. These separate
challenges have affected people around the globe.”
That could be an
important clue: those who attacked the World Trade Center might have been early
protesters against the financial crisis.
What has happened since? “Men,
women and children have been murdered by extremists from Casablanca to London,
from Jalalabad to Jakarta.”
Note that three of the four places listed are
in Muslim- majority countries, disguising the fact that most of these attacks
were by Islamists trying to kill Westerners, though many were also aimed at
Obama should want to win over governments in Muslim majority
countries, but he goes a step further, making Muslims the victims rather than
focusing on building a broad international coalition.
For that purpose,
Obama should have listed more places. In fact, by making the tally include many
countries he would have demonstrated the extent of the problem and, more
effectively, the need for cooperation in fighting it. It would have been
especially smart of him to mention Russia, India, and China. A mention of Israel
would have been decent.
The problem, then, is not that Obama wants to
show sympathy for non-radical Muslims and win them over.
It’s that he
focuses too single-mindedly on that priority, while failing to draw a sharper
distinction between the two sides in Islam’s internal struggle for
Obama then discusses the withdrawals from Iraq.
curious, clumsy phrasing to transition to a discussion of nuclear weapons: “As
we pursue the world’s most dangerous extremists, we are also denying them the
world’s most dangerous weapons, and pursuing the peace and security of a world
without nuclear weapons.”
Leaving aside the nuclear issue itself, how has
US policy denied al-Qaida nuclear weapons? The proper connection would be to
Iran as the world’s main sponsor of terrorism.
Instead, he links the
denial of nuclear weapons to Iran with the idea that everyone must give them up,
though he mentions in passing that “Iran is the only party to the
Nonproliferation Treaty that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its
But what does this mean? That Iran’s nuclear program
is developing weapons, or that there is concern that such weapons might be used?
THEN OBAMA gets to the issue that really animates him, what he appears to
believe is the keystone to everything.
Two paragraphs about terrorism;
two on Iran; 10 long paragraphs about Israel-Palestinian issues.
going into detail, let me ask a question: Obama wants to win over
Why should he highlight what might be considered
the US weak point in that context? I understand he wishes to demonstrate how
hard the US is working on this issue. But no matter how much he talks, he has
nothing to show for it! A good statesman doesn’t highlight what he cannot do,
nor set himself up as the one to blame when nothing happens. He and his
administration simply don’t get this and keep promising, flattering and
sometimes conceding with no result.
Obama then sets out to prove he is
the world’s number- one champion of the Palestinian cause. Generally, he does
try to present a balanced policy in line with the historic US stance. He wants
“two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as
part of a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its neighbors.”
much of the speech is word for word what he’s said when meeting Israeli,
Palestinian or Arab leaders. What is he trying to achieve at the UN? Last year
he promised direct, intensive talks within two months. It took him a year to get
direct talks that convene every two weeks.
Then he calls on Israel to
freeze building on settlements.
Okay. But he doesn’t balance that by
asking the Palestinian side to do anything.
His impotence is also
revealed in a small detail. He calls for countries that support the Palestinians
to give them more aid. Yet so far he has failed to get any Arab state to give
even as much money as they did when George W. Bush was president. Certainly,
Obama makes a very strong statement supporting Israel’s existence, promising US
support for it, and decrying terrorism against Israeli civilians.
IS one line, though, I cannot let pass without analysis: “Make no mistake: The
courage of a man like President Abbas, who stands up for his people in front of
the world, is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and
What does that courage consist of? Making compromises with
Israel? Fighting Hamas? Ending incitement and telling his people that they
should accept Israel’s existence? Offering to resettle Palestinian refugees in
Palestine, or recognizing Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for Israel
recognizing Palestine as an Arab state? No. Merely that after resisting for
almost two years, he is holding direct talks with Israel while threatening to
walk out at the first opportunity.
His finish on this topic is to urge
action so that when the UN meets in 2011 the problem would have been solved and
there will be a new UN member, “An independent, sovereign state of Palestine,
living in peace with Israel.”
I’ll bet that when the UN convenes in a
year nothing will have changed. If Obama knows that’s true, why stake his
prestige on it, highlight it, and make it seem like the world’s most important
issue? There are important clues here to Obama’s worldview.
US responsibility for problems, even as he asks others to help and finds it hard
to remain consistent in asking for mutual compromise. He presents no persuasive
reasons why others should do what he wants.
Most importantly, Obama
simply doesn’t seem to comprehend the idea that in international affairs, there
are people who want to destroy you due to ambition, hatred, ideology and even a
desire to hold on to what they have. And not all of them are
If the president can believe that his domestic opponents are
bitter haters who want to hold onto their guns and religion, why can’t he
comprehend that this is true for a long list of countries and radical movements
abroad? IT WASN’T a very strong speech, and it was lacking in any particular
American perspective. At no point is there any assertion of US leadership, or
any indication that the US has some particular set of interests.
to build bridges with other countries is a necessary task for a president, yet
Obama seems to think he can do so by standing in the middle of the
And so here is the revelation that Obama’s UN speech has brought
me: There have been presidents who thought that the outside world is exactly the
same as America. There have been presidents who thought that the rest of the
world is worse than America.
Obama is the first president who thinks the
rest of the world is better than America.The writer is director of the
Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review
of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at