Obama speaks to the United Nations

Posted on September 23, 2009

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obama united nations

(Image credit: The Globe and Mail)

President Obama gave a speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations that, like his Cairo speech, was long on hype and short on substance. The full text of the speech can be found here at the New York Times, and I’d urge you to read that instead of the almost comical summary by the Associated Press that reads like a White House press statement. (Hmmmm…)

The speech begins fairly well and is full of standard “let’s all work together” rhetoric, something with which I’m fairly comfortable. Any speech before the nations of the world should have some of this, and while the words themselves are good, it wasn’t anything particularly groundbreaking or game-changing. Of course everyone wants to see peace and prosperity throughout the world, and it’s no big shock to see Obama play on the global anti-Bush sentiment to try to pump himself up as something different (not necessarily better, mind you, but different).

Where the speech sort of fell off the rails for me was when Obama began talking about his “four pillars” for the future. Regarding his first two major ones, nuclear disarmament and climate change, I have fundamental policy disagreements with the administration. Limiting nuclear arms is all well and good, but doing it unilaterally isn’t leadership, it’s an advertisement of weakness. And preaching it to a body that has been sluggish in dealing with Iran and North Korea seems like a waste of flowery prose.

Climate change isn’t settled science, and basing global governing strategy based on a few computer models that have been shown to be flawed makes me nervous. Not to mention that so much of it doesn’t seem to be based on the scientific method but on climatic scare tactics and dire predictions of apocalypse if the world, in the words of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, doesn’t “act in a way that it should.” Pushing this in front of the world just embarrasses me.

It also troubled me that Obama reserved some of his strongest language for Israel, saying the settlements are unequivocally “illegitimate,” and that a two-state solution must be found so that the “occupation” can end. It was nice to hear him say that Palestinian supporters should recognize Israel’s right to exist, but not so much after he said Israel supporters must recognize the rights of the Palestinians, which for the most part they do already. The statement perpetuates the belief that Israel is the boogeyman and the great aggressor in the Middle East conflict, and if we could just get Israel to stop being so evil then the justified Arab attacks would stop. Obama tried to frame the issue in an even-handed way, but little slips like this betray a willingness to put Middle East peace on the doorstep of the Israelis.

Overall, the speech was average at best. I don’t think it was an absolute train wreck like some on the right are saying, but neither do I think that it was such an eloquent and forceful message of Global Hope and Change™ that the world now has no choice but to take notice and follow. Talk, as they say, is cheap, and I’m more impressed by actions than words. That’s why I’ll be putting more stock into what this administration does over the oratory of Obama.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also spoke and had several delegations walk out on him, and Muammar Gaddafi gave a rambling and incoherent speech that some claim upstaged Obama. That these two nutballs were even allowed to speak further diminishes any positive impact of Obama’s appearance. Whatever the President said, the United Nations remains an international circus where thugs and dictators operate with the same moral bearing as the world’s oldest democracies. It’s not a recipe for world harmony and symbiosis; it’s a prescription for inaction, enabling and appeasement.

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Posted in: News