Live Blogging Obama’s Case for War at the United Nations
10:52 a.m. Following the killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, this summer, critics of the United States took advantage of the unrest that followed to slam America’s policing tactics and persistent racism. Speaking to his fellow world leaders, Obama rebutted them. "In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern ...
Following the killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, this summer, critics of the United States took advantage of the unrest that followed to slam America’s policing tactics and persistent racism. Speaking to his fellow world leaders, Obama rebutted them. "In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri — where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So, yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. But we welcome the scrutiny of the world — because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect."
Though peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians have collapsed, Obama reaffirms his commitment to a peaceful settlement between them. At the same time, Obama argues that the current round of violence shows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be seen as the root cause of broader instability in the region: "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; for far too long, it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home. And the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. But let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable. 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. So long as I am president, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region, and the world will be more just with two states living side by side, in peace and security."
In calling for a political solution to the Syrian civil war, Obama squarely confronts how the conflict is no longer a democratic uprising but a regional proxy war: "It’s time for a broader negotiation in which major powers address their differences directly, honestly, and peacefully across the table from one another, rather than through gun-wielding proxies. I can promise you America will remain engaged in the region, and we are prepared to engage in that effort."
As part of his effort to counter Islamic State militants, Obama calls for an end to sectarian conflict: "This is a fight that no one is winning. A brutal civil war in Syria has already killed nearly 200,000 people and displaced millions. Iraq has come perilously close to plunging back into the abyss. The conflict has created a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists who inevitably export this violence."
Obama argues that extremist ideology must be tackled at its source, and in doing so he offers a not-so-subtle dig at countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, calling on them to stop funding extremist groups: "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."
"Here’s the quote you’ll be seeing on the front pages tomorrow. Speaking of the challenge posed by radical Islamist militants and their brutal tactics, Obama pledges to defeat what he describes as a "network of death": "No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning — no negotiation — with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death."
Obama argues that he has shifted America’s foreign policy away from a single-minded focus on terrorism:
"I have made it clear that America will not base our entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism. Rather, we have waged a focused campaign against al Qaeda and its associated forces — taking out their leaders, and denying them the safe-havens they rely upon. At the same time, we have reaffirmed that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims the world over aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice. And when it comes to America and Islam, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ — there is only us, because millions of Muslim Americans are part of the fabric of our country.
So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. Belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists who cannot build or create anything, and therefore peddle only fanaticism and hate. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.
The Ebola outbreak receives only a short mention in Obama’s speech, with the president calling on other countries to join his effort to stem the pandemic: "We will continue mobilizing other countries to join us in making concrete commitments to fight this outbreak and enhance global health security for the long-term."
Obama calls Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and fomenting of unrest in eastern Ukraine a challenge to the post-war order. This, Obama argues, cannot stand: "This is a vision of the world in which ‘might makes right’ — a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might — that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is looking on from the audience somewhat glumly as his country’s actions in Ukraine — which he continues to deny — are denounced by Obama.
Obama’s focusing on two topics: "Whether the nations here today will be able to renew the purpose of the U.N.’s founding; and whether we will come together to reject the cancer of violent extremism."
Addressing the multiple crises in the world — from Ebola, to Syria, to fighting in Ukraine, Obama calls them a failure of the international system: "They are also symptoms of a broader problem — the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world. We, collectively, have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries. Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe."
President Obama is at the podium, and he opens with a powerful line: "We come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope."
That’s an assessment that stands in stark contrast to his outlook on the world during his speech to the U.N. a year ago: "The world is more stable than it was five years ago."
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is first up at this year’s General Assembly opening. Ahead of elections scheduled for Oct. 5., she, unsurprisingly, is delivering something of a stump speech. Rousseff is in a tight race with Marina Silva and is using her moment on the international stage to help her re-election bid. Among the advantages of running as an incumbent: You get to travel to New York and deliver a speech on whatever you like in front of the world’s media. Brazil — under both her government and her predecessor’s — she notes, has brought more than 36 million Brazilians out of poverty since 2002. The economy has shown broad gains and inequality is down. Public debt has also been reduced too, all of which makes Brazil a creditor nation now, she says.
Could she possibly be running for something?
This morning, world leaders are streaming into United Nations headquarters here in New York City for this year’s general debate. U.S. President Barack Obama is second on the speakers’ list and will deliver a speech that is arguably the biggest moment for an American president at the U.N. since George W. Bush addressed the body in the run-up to the Iraq War. Obama is expected to lay out his strategy for combating the Islamic State, continuing his efforts to recruit allies to the campaign. Stay with us here at Foreign Policy, as we live blog Obama’s address.