President Barack Obama told the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday that America’s financial crisis was the reason their economies were suffering and promised to not rest until people around the globe prosper. “Two years ago this month, a financial crisis on Wall Street devastated American families on Main Street. The global economy suffered an enormous blow during the financial crisis, crippling markets and deferring the dreams of millions on every continent,” he said.
Obama also assured the 192 nations gathered for the opening of the 2010 U.N. meeting that he has had "no greater focus as president than rescuing our economy from potential catastrophe." In taking credit for saving mankind from financial ruin with his administration’s actions, Obama went on to say, “The global economy has been pulled back from the brink of a depression, and is growing once more…We are exploring ways to expand trade and commerce among nations. But we cannot -- and will not -- rest until these seeds of progress grow into a broader prosperity, for all Americans, and for people around the globe." In a stunning pledge for an American president, Obama told the U.N. diplomats that since Wall Street caused their problems, he would take responsibility for fixing their financial mess.
Surprisingly, Obama’s U.N. speech also seemed to make clear that his ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, was not following his instructions when she refused to call out Libya for their election to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s election to the U.N. Women’s Committee.
Obama bluntly told the UN crowd that "Human rights have never gone unchallenged -- not in any of our nations and not in our world.” The simple instruction was seen by some as a directive to Rice since she has consistently stayed silent when confronted with human rights violators winning coveted U.N. committee spots.
Obama made clear that America and its ambassadors should not sit quietly when freedoms are eroded, as Susan Rice has done on a number of occasions. The president bluntly told the crowd “"Do not stand idly by when dissidents everywhere are imprisoned and protesters are beaten. Because part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others.” His language reads like an instruction to Ambassador Rice to start standing up to violators and a strong message to the diplomats that her actions should not be interpreted as U.S. policy.
Obama also seemed to chastise Susan Rice when he spoke about America’s support for Israel. While Rice was roundly criticized for skipping the Emergency Security Council session on the Gaza flotilla crisis opting instead to stay on vacation in Washington, D.C., the president made clear to the U.N. diplomats that they should not confuse her actions with his administration’s support for Israel.
He said, “It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel's legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.” But Rice’s refusal to back Israel at one of the most critical moments the Jewish state has faced at the U.N. was seen by Arabs as a sign that America’s support is not unconditional.
I guess for Rice, "unshakeable support" doesn’t include a shuttle flight from Washington to New York during an emergency session that lasts several days and was covered extensively by the international and domestic news outlets. Rice -- who is supposedly stationed in New York at the U.N. -- has missed a plethora of important U.N. meetings and has been criticized for spending too much time in Washington so it wasn’t even out of the ordinary for her to not be in New York at the time of the crisis.
Rice’s refusal to defend Israel at the U.N. certainly hasn’t been the only time the Obama administration and Israel have been at odds. And although President Obama has tried to repair the damage, the Israeli delegation to the U.N. today was not present for President Obama’s speech and the six chairs reserved for Israel could be seen empty on U.N. TV.
Additionally, President Obama has no bilateral meetings scheduled with Israel during his visit this week. In years past, President Bush always met privately or formally with Israeli officials during the U.N. meetings so the Obama team’s snub to Israel is seen as another misstep in their Middle East peace efforts.
Bottom line: Today’s U.N. speech is a clear sign that Obama is more interested in being president of the world than he is in being president of the United States.
Richard Grenell served as the spokesman for 4 U.S. Ambassadors to the U.N. including John Negroponte, John Danforth, John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad. He currently writes from Los Angeles where his pieces can be seen at www.richardgrenell.com.
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