Obama's muted UN message
September 21st, 2011
04:11 PM ET

Obama's muted UN message

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter. The following is his First Take, reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.

By James M. LindsayCFR.org

Last September, President Barack Obama vowed in his annual appearance before the UN General Assembly to work for "an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations–an independent, sovereign state of Palestine." In today's speech to the General Assembly, he avoided all promises, pledges, and plans. He instead argued that the UN should not offer Palestinians a "a short cut" on the road to statehood.

As is tradition with General Assembly speeches, Obama toured the foreign policy waterfront. He recounted the good news - U.S. military operations are ending in Iraq; transition to local control has begun in Afghanistan; Osama bin Laden no longer leads al-Qaeda; South Sudan won independence; and popular uprisings swept autocrats from power in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The president left no doubt that the United States deserved credit for many of these successes.

The president also cited numerous threats: the continued specter of weapons of mass destruction, grinding poverty that "that punishes our children," diseases that travel swiftly across borders, and a changing climate, to name just a few.

But the topic on everyone's mind was U.S. opposition to Palestine's pending bid for statehood. Obama vigorously defended his opposition to a UN vote. While reaffirming his support for an independent Palestine, he warned a "genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians."

Obama aggressively backed Israel's right to exist. Speaking with uncharacteristic bluntness to its critics, he warned that "the friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring" the security threats facing Israel and that "Israel deserves normal relations with its neighbors."

But Obama offered no strategy or timetable for bringing the two sides together. He merely urged the UN to "encourage the parties to sit down together, to listen to each other, and to understand each other's hopes and fears." His silence on next steps was an implicit admission that the United States has few cards to play.

In defending his opposition to immediate statehood for Palestine, Obama was speaking as much to American voters as he was to the foreign dignitaries gathered at the UN. Just yesterday, GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry accused Obama of pursuing a "naïve, arrogant, misguided, and dangerous" Middle East policy. Not to be outdone, rival GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney charged Obama with having created "an unmitigated diplomatic disaster."

Obama's speech may have blunted these domestic criticisms, but it probably moved few foreign leaders. Shortly after he spoke, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the a General Assembly vote to grant the Palestinians "observer status," a step on the road to statehood.

Obama's immediate challenge is to persuade Mahmoud Abbas to drop his request for a UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood. Even if he succeeds, no one knows what will happen next in the West Bank or the rest of the Arab world.

The longer-range challenge is to find a way to reconcile the legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians. Obama began his presidency confident that he could do just that. More than two-and-half years later, however, much of the world doubts that Obama can deliver on his promise.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of James Lindsay.

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. john dahodi

    When I heard completely the portion related to Israel-Palestinian issue by Obama in the U.N. today, I felt very much that whether it is the speech given by Areal Sharon of Israel who has been in coma for the last 4 years? It is too bad that American political and religious leaders are competing with each other to be friend with Israel at any cost including our President, that is really unbelievable. I do not know that they know the fact "that Israel isn't just condemned by the world body more than any other country, it is condemned more often than all other countries combined. According to U.N. watch in Geneva, the U.N.'s Human Rights Council has adopted about 70 resolutions condemning specific countries, 40 of which have been Israel (Y. K. Halevi, L.A. Times 9/20/11)". Can some one will tell Obama to know this fact before he criticize Palestinians to whom he and other Presidents have made human lace, face less and meaningless.

    September 21, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      It's a pretty easy choice for the US. Be a friend with Israel or be a friend with Hamas, Al Qaeda and their ilk. Ignoring them is not an option...

      September 22, 2011 at 5:27 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      John... Can you NAME ONE UN RESOLUTION Israel violated but the Arabs complied with?

      September 22, 2011 at 8:59 am | Reply
    • hey

      hey john johny UN human right council is a joky.country like libya's gadaffi was a member.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Reply
  2. michael su

    Obama said" "genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians." Then give the Palestinians their state so they can negotiate on equal footing. America is just an extension of Jewish policies.

    September 21, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Reply
    • common dense

      that's probably because obama wants the jew vote. Funny, freedom for all countries from dictators but no freedom for palis from Isreali dictatorship.

      Obama, stupider than a pile of bricks

      September 22, 2011 at 12:30 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      A sovereign independent state was offered to Palestinian Arabs in 1938, 1967, 1978, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009 and they're REJECTED it every single time. It is possible to OFFER them a state but no one can shove a state into the Palestinian collective throat against their will. Palestinian Arabs can have a state next week if they'll renounce violence, recognize Israel and NEGOTIATE a peace agreement. Unfortunately, they prefer a war instead and (again, unfortunately) they'll get what they ask for.

      September 22, 2011 at 5:31 am | Reply
      • Pete

        How can Palestinian prepare for war when they know they will never win because Israel is protected by US? They fight because they are struggling to get what belongs to them.

        September 22, 2011 at 8:09 am |
      • Thinker23

        Pete: Palestinians are ALREADY at war. Even YOU know it considering your words "they fight because they're struggling...." Unilateral declaration of statehood will not end the war but will create a STATE at war are they "prepared" to it or not. Further, if you believe that the Palestinians are "struggling to get what BELONGS TO THEM" you should have no troubles to SHOW THE LEGAL DEEDS PROVING that what they're struggling for BELONGS TO THEM.

        September 22, 2011 at 8:39 am |
      • common dense

        You mean like how the US presented their legal deed to the native americans?

        September 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • zionist

      You can always tell an Ignorant Jew Hater. It is the one that claims America is some way controlled by Jews. 3% of the American population control the movement and actions of Billions of Americans. Lets not forget that the Jews control the banks, Hollywood washington DC. on and on.

      It is like when a phony white liberal tells a black man how he has friends that are black. Right away you know that guy is a phony.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:47 am | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Obama's stance towards Palestinians bid for statehood reveals his inconsistency and lack of backbone. I think his main interest would be to safeguard all prospects for his second term in office.

    September 22, 2011 at 4:59 am | Reply
  4. Pete

    You can fool somebody once, but you can not fool everybody twice. The rhetoric speech brought out the hypocrisy of a nation that pretends to be a mediator but in reality is protecting one of the party in the so called "direct negotiation". Then what is UN established for? Isn't its function is to provide the opportunity for countries to balance global interdependence and national interests when addressing international problems? Where did Israel get its statehood? Ask yourself.

    September 22, 2011 at 8:06 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      Israel got its statehood just like every other nation on this planet, by declaring independence and defending it from enemies trying to destroy it. The UN did not and does not have the power or authority to CREATE states but it did nad does have the autority to solve regional conflicts byOFFERING solutions. This is what happened in May, 1948 when the UN Resolution 181 OFFERED to divide Palestine and create two states, one for the Arabs and the other for the Jews. The Jews accepted the offer and declared a state. The Arabs rejected it and declared a war. The rest is history.

      September 22, 2011 at 8:44 am | Reply
      • common dense

        so if i went to your house and say ok now half belong to some jews and half to you, and you have no right to the matter...

        that's ok? No wonder you're the 23th thinker, you're too stupid to get #1

        September 22, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  5. rawiorhjawioj

    @ common dense.

    You are dense.

    September 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Reply

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