Obama, Syria, and the Missed Opportunities of UNGA 2016

World leaders gathered in New York City to give speeches and discuss the world’s most pressing foreign-policy issues, but they neglected two of its biggest problems.


Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered his final address to the U.N. General Assembly. All the world leaders — from Justin Trudeau to Shinzo Abe — who descended on New York City for a week of policy meetings and speeches have since packed up and gone home. But was anything actually achieved during this year’s UNGA?

On this week’s episode of The E.R., David Rothkopf, Kori Schake, David Sanger, and a new guest, FP columnist Kim Ghattas of the BBC, review the bright spots and blunders of last week’s U.N. General Assembly.

As Obama made his last, valedictory speech to the U.N., the panel compares this speech to the ones he delivered when he first came into office some eight years ago. Looking at his declarations in Cairo, Oslo, and Prague on Middle East peace, nuclear nonproliferation, and the increased need for presidential military intervention, the panel debates whether or not Obama successfully achieved what he set out to do. And, with a new president about to take office in just a few short months, the panel asks a crucial question: Has Obama laid the kind of U.S. foreign-policy groundwork to help or hinder the next president?

The roundtable also discusses the two most urgent — and under-addressed — issues at UNGA this year: the refugee crisis and the war in Syria. These are not, as one panelist points out, the kinds of issues the world can simply ignore; in fact, the worsening state of Syria and the refugee crisis are prime examples of why large meetings of this sort never resolve anything. UNGA might do little more than gather world leaders to fix the problems of yesterday and today, without doing anything that might make a difference — like anticipating the problems of tomorrow.

Kim Ghattas is a correspondent for the BBC, covering Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, and an FP columnist. She was previously based in Beirut, reporting on the Middle East for 10 years, and is the author of The Secretary: A Journey With Hillary Clinton From Beirut to the Heart of American Power. Follow her on Twitter at: @BBCKimGhattas.

David Sanger is the national security correspondent for the New York Times and author of Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power. Follow him on Twitter at: @SangerNYT.

Kori Schake is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where she focuses on military history, and a former foreign-policy advisor to Sen. John McCain. Follow her on Twitter at: @KoriSchake.

David Rothkopf is the CEO and editor of the FP Group. Follow him on Twitter at: @djrothkopf.

Subscribe to FP’s The E.R. and Global Thinkers podcasts on iTunes.

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