The naiveté of Obama’s UN speech
By Nile Gardiner
Barack Obama has delivered seven major addresses to the UN General Assembly during his tenure at the White House – he will give his final address next year before departing office in January 2017. Much like his campaign appearances, Obama’s UN speeches contain a great deal of fanciful, soaring rhetoric, but little of actual substance. To say they are increasingly dull would be an understatement. So dull in fact that this year all the cable news networks, including liberal-leaning CNN and MSNBC, ditched the traditional in-depth post-speech analysis in favour of a news conference on a presidential candidate’s tax plans.
President Obama’s address to the UN on Monday was tired, weak, and completely lacking in ideas and strategy. It exemplified the “leading from behind” mindset that has come to symbolize the Obama administration’s lackluster foreign policy. Instead of offering a bold vision for American leadership on the world stage, Mr. Obama offered yet again a reheated bowl of mush that will do nothing to intimidate America’s enemies or reassure America’s allies.
The president lauded the first 70 years of the United Nations, established in the aftermath of World War Two, praising the post-war international system as the defender of global security, but warned against the “dangerous currents (that) risk pulling us back in a dark more disordered world.” There were jabs at Vladimir Putin over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, as well as condemnation of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. But in neither case were any solutions offered.
Under the Obama administration’s “Russian reset,” Moscow has begun to flex its muscle again in eastern Europe, while the United States has reduced its military footprint across the Atlantic, closing a series of strategically important bases in Europe. In the Baltic States, Poland and a host of nations that only recently freed themselves from the grip of the Russian bear, there is rising concern about Russian designs in what Putin views as his own backyard. A more robust president, such as Ronald Reagan, would have used a moment like this to warn the Russians of the consequences of their imperial ambitions, demanding a complete withdrawal from the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
In contrast President Obama offered only empty rhetoric, and chose to ignore altogether the immediate issue of Russian intervention in Syria to support the Assad regime. While Obama spoke at the UN, Russian tanks, aircraft and military personnel were pouring into Syria, and Moscow was cutting deals not only with Damascus but also Tehran as well. In the absence of clear US leadership over the Syria crisis, America’s adversaries are pooling resources and putting in place a joint chain of command, with the goal of keeping Assad in power, and entrenching Russia, and not the United States, as the dominant Western power in the Middle East.