Obama, confounded, chides tribal Middle East in speech to UN General Assembly

Violence engulfing the Middle East has made "too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace," US president said.

US President Barack Obama (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – The international system on which the US relies is failing to “keep pace” with an interconnected world, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday in a somber speech on the state of global affairs.
The speech was an acknowledgment by the US president of the challenges to his own doctrine of multi-lateralism: “We cannot rely on a rule book written for a different century,” he said.
In a speech delivered at West Point in May, billed by the White House as an outline of his organizing principles as commander- in-chief, Obama said international institutions were built on a rule-book written by the US – those rules now need “reshaping,” he said on Wednesday, before one such international body.
The two greatest challenges facing the UN are fundamental, Obama said: whether its founding purpose could be reinforced and empowered and whether its members will come together to fight the “cancer of extremism.”
“We have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so,” he told the general assembly. “And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the world.”
Most of the president’s criticisms were targeted at feuding powers in the Middle East where he at once said the great, borderless war there is non-religious to the US, while acknowledging the sectarian nature of the conflict within the Muslim world.
“It’s time to end the hypocrisy of those who accumulate wealth through the global economy and then siphon funds to those who teach children to tear it down,” Obama said. “Propaganda has coerced young people to travel abroad to fight their wars, and turned students – young people full of potential – into suicide bombers.”
“It is time to acknowledge the destruction wrought by proxy wars and terror campaigns between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East. And it is time that political, civic and religious leaders reject sectarian strife,” he continued. “This is a fight that no one is winning.”
The president spoke as the US-led assault continued against Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, including two air strikes west of Baghdad and one in northern Syria, near its border with Turkey, damaging several Islamic State vehicles.
The president has vowed to strike Islamic State, al-Qaida and their affiliates “wherever they are,” granting them no safe haven, regardless of borders.
Such violence engulfing the Middle East has made “too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace,” he continued, adding off his prepared remarks: “That’s something worthy of reflection, within Israel.”
Recommitting his administration to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Obama said murderous extremism roiling the region should put to rest the “illusion” that conflict between Arabs and Israelis stands at the root of all problems in the Middle East.
“The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that this conflict is the main source of problems in the region,” he said. “For far too long, it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home.”
The president described the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza as “not sustainable.”
“As bleak as the landscape appears, America will not give up on the pursuit of peace,” he said. “We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza.”
The president will host Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House on October 1, after the Israeli premier addresses the UN over the weekend.
Obama also spoke of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, directly addressing its leaders with a call to seize the “historic opportunity” for a comprehensive deal.
“Do not let this opportunity pass,” he said.
“We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while ensuring the world that your program is peaceful.”
US efforts to reach a “diplomatic solution” to the conflict, he said, is part of his larger commitment “to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them.”
Talks between Iran and world powers continued on Wednesday, including a rare bilateral between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Negotiations for a comprehensive deal ending international concerns with the program are set to expire on November 24.