President Obama failed to articulate what the U.S. wants to do in the world and how it will proceed—the most basic objective of having a president address the U.N. Instead, Mr. Obama indulged himself in a series of liberal fantasies about the fabled “international community” and the serious risks we face.
The main point of President Obama’s speech matched what seems to be the top priority with his overall foreign policy—breathing life into the United Nations.
He made the claim that “the United Nations helped avert a third World War.” He offered no support for this because there is none. During the Cold War the U.N. was of limited use for the same reason it is today: the preponderance of corrupt and repressive governments among its members.
Mr. Obama was even more generous with the recent performance of the U.N. amid uprisings across the Middle East, saying “This is how the international community is supposed to work.” By way of explanation, he favorably mentioned the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt--in which the U.N. and his administration had no serious role. He then glided on to Libya, where a month after the uprising began, Mr. Obama acquiesced to the use of force. But it’s worth remembering that the U.N. and Mr. Obama’s State Department made it harder for the Libyan rebels to win through an arms embargo. Victory came in spite of the U.N.
The most stunning part of the president’s speech was his claim that “Osama bin Laden is gone, and the idea that change could only come through violence has been buried with him.” There are two problems with this.
First, there are plenty of people in the world who do think violence is best way to effect change—preferably violence directed at the USA and our allies. Some of the them run governments; some of them run terrorist organizations. Here we are seeing the naive assumption of President Obama and his aides that the defeat of al Qaeda will take the world back to before 9/11. Unfortunately, the threats we face are greater than one terrorist group.
Second, the implication that bin Laden was just someone who thought “change could come only through violence” is stunning. It implies that we have no beef with the change bin Laden wanted or his vision for an enslaved humanity. We merely took issue with his choice of means because they were violent.
Is this parsing Mr. Obama’s words too literally? Not when you consider that the president is a lawyer, likely to be careful with word choice, and that his speech was reviewed by dozens of top officials before its delivery.
In fact, Mr. Obama and the liberals who populate his administration still choose not to understand Islamism and the motivations of our adversaries. This statement appears to be a too-clever-by-half attempt to conflate what bin Laden wanted and the desires of those who take to the streets in the Middle East today. In addition to being another incorrect read of the Arab Spring, this sends a powerful signal of appeasement to those who wish to advance the Islamist vision.
Of course, no Obama speech on foreign policy would be complete without a repudiation of the president who preceded him. He spoke of a “new direction” in U.S. foreign policy, specifically mentioning the withdrawal of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He repeated the now-disproved line that “the tide of war is receding.” This basically amounted to fishing for approval from the audience at the U.N., who always saw George W. Bush as terribly uncouth and much prefer an American president inclined to apologize for his nation.
Ultimately, the speech was the essence of “leading from behind.” Friends and foes of the United States were treated to an inspirational speaker, not merely reprising the language of hope and change, but also promising a diffident America, confused with its enemies and allies, and committed to the lie that the United Nations is useful for much other than harming American interests.
Christian Whiton is a former U.S. State Department senior adviser and is a principal at DC International Advisory. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion.
Christian Whiton was a State Department senior advisor in the George W. Bush administration from 2003-2009. He is author of "Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War" (Potomac Books, 2013).