President Obama’s Speech to the UN General Assembly

obamaunitednationsAs you undoubtedly know yesterday President Obama gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. The complete text of the speech is here. Was the speech important or not and why or why not?

President Obama’s fluent, rhetorically soaring speeches continue to be a welcome relief from those of his predecessor albeit becoming a little too familiar. I think my own reaction to the speech echoes the reactions of many Middle Eastern commentators to his Cairo speech: rhetoric is well and good but I’ll judge by his actions rather than his words. Where’s the beef?

Any number of people have characterized the speech as naive. Niles Gardiner’s column in The Telegraph (known none too fondly as “The Torygraph” by its detractors) is pretty typical:

Overall this was a staggeringly naïve speech by President Obama, with Woodstock-style utterances like “I will not waver in my pursuit of peace” or “the interests of peoples and nations are shared.” All that was missing was a conga of hippies dancing through the aisles with a rousing rendition of “Kumbaya”.

The New York Times editors noted that Afghanistan was conspicuous by its absence from the speech:

No one can argue with the importance of the issues he dwelled on: nuclear proliferation, climate change, the global economy and Middle East peace.

There was, however, one large gap. Mr. Obama said almost nothing about Afghanistan, which just a month ago he called a “war of necessity,” fundamental to American security and to the broader fight against terrorism.

The United Nations is not the ideal place to address Americans’ doubts about the war, the brewing rebellion within his own party or the fierce disagreement among his top advisers about whether to send more troops or begin to draw them down. Seven years of neglect by the Bush administration has made defeating, or even containing, the Taliban far harder. And any policy decision must be carefully reviewed. But there is not a lot of time.

Listening to President Obama’s speech you might come away with the conclusion that the world’s pressing problems can be solved by the proper understanding of self-interest. For example:

In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War.

The time has come to realize that the old habits, the old arguments, are irrelevant to the challenges faced by our people. They lead nations to act in opposition to the very goals that they claim to pursue — and to vote, often in this body, against the interests of their own people.

Unfortunately, the problems faced today don’t fall into a single classification. For some, like nuclear arms reduction, we would all be better off if an agreement can be reached. However, for others, like the elimination of nuclear weapons—a stated goal of President Obama’s just as it was of President Reagan before him, while we would benefit enormously if such a feat could actually be pulled off, that’s not true of Russia, which would be relegated from its present status of world power to regional power in an effective regime of the elimination of nuclear weapons.

FILED UNDER: General
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    So Dave you prefer the lies, apologies and preening of Obama to the leadership and truth told by Bush. Go figure. Did you like the part about abandoning Israel? Obama is a narcissistic egomaniac. He is not suited to the job he has and is over his head in dealing with most of the issues facing him and this nation. He just appointed a school czar to taught teenagers about fisting and other weird sexual practices. Some president. Please explain Van Jones.

  2. Triumph says:

    Obama’s speech, to me, represented the inane ramblings of a savage liberal.

    No wonder it was so well-received by the UN.

    The world would be better off if the top 10 stories of the UN building were removed.

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    Those who lack experience tend to think change comes easily, quickly, and comprehensively. Our president has made the false assumption everything needs to be done big and be done now rather than incrementally over time. Believing the hype about himself as real he obviously has no clue about the world and how things work.

    Be it nuclear disarmament or health care he believes all it will take is a stirring speech and everyone will see the way. Naivety like this is something we do not need in a chief executive.

    Good change in anything comes slowly and with measured gains. Missteps can be undone before serious damage can be done and effective steps can be built upon. Obama has no appreciation of taking good time and doing things right. That flaw will likely cause damage to our country domestically and internationally.

    Rather than approach each issue with sweeping reform bills or policy overhauls he should be building upon past successes and easing into leadership. I’m becoming more afraid he will double down when adversity rears it’s head and plod forward with only arrogance as his ally.

  4. Brian Knapp says:

    Those who lack experience tend to think change comes easily, quickly, and comprehensively. Our president has made the false assumption everything needs to be done big and be done now rather than incrementally over time.

    Experience should also tell you that speeches and television appearances are only a small fraction of what the White House does to instill change. Any White House. But it IS still part of the job. If he refused any public appearances to “work” on change, you would say he was doing nothing at all!

    Believing the hype about himself as real he obviously has no clue about the world and how things work.

    Thinking you can know someone and their motivations from news bites etc. shows how little you know how things work.

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    Brian, My statements have nothing to do with his media appearances. When I say he’s doing things big I mean big as in legislation with huge impacts. For instance with health care rather than smaller pieces of legislation he is looking to reform top to bottom. Is that the most prudent way to approach reform for one sixth of the economy? I would say no. A delusional leader would say yes.

    My conclusions about his diplomacy rest upon the analysis of many much smarter than I. I accept my limitations while this president acts as if he has none. That sort of arrogance is a dangerous thing.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    For instance with health care rather than smaller pieces of legislation he is looking to reform top to bottom. Is that the most prudent way to approach reform for one sixth of the economy? I would say no. A delusional leader would say yes.

    So anyone who approves of substantial change to a significant portion of the economy is “delusional”? I guess that means we can’t have big changes in the financial sector, despite all its shenanigans, because that would just be “delusional”…

    I accept my limitations while this president acts as if he has none. That sort of arrogance is a dangerous thing.

    I assume you were equally concerned about that sort of arrogance from past presidents (including the one right before the current one) as many of them acted as if they had no limitations…

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    AIP,

    I said the President was acting delusional by trying to do so much all at once. Even he must understand the limitations of his office and the risks involved of a complete overhaul in one piece of legislation as opposed to gradual change.

    Our past president didn’t try to take over one sixth of the economy. I suppose the arrogance you speak of was the things he did with congressional approval. War, spy programs, and such. Hey, isn’t our current president doing the same things?

  8. An Interested Party says:

    Ohhhh, who knew that congressional approval made the difference…so I guess when the president signs some form of health care reform legislation sent to him by the Congress, he won’t be “arrogant” and “delusional” anymore…