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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

President Obama at the UN

The most significant speech given at the UN in my lifetime, in my opinion, was given by George Bush on September 12th, 2002. That speech laid out a clear case for war against Iraq. There was no doubt where the then president was headed and six months later we got there. That speech was specific, clear and it had a purpose. This particular speech could be viewed as the anti Bush September 12, 2002 speech. This was a broad outline of a vision with absolutely no clear way to get there. The president laid out what he has done over the last nine months to make the U.S. a better ally in the world: closing GITMO, ending torture, climate change, etc. This was yet another version of the President's trying to differentiate himself from George Bush. He never mentioned Bush by name but by referencing all that had been done since he took over, the assertion was clear.

After bashing Bush for a few minutes and telling the assembly how he had single handedly turned around our nation in nine months, the president laid out four pillars: 1)non proliferation, 2)pursuit of peace 3)preservation of our planet and 4)a global prospering economy. At one point, President Obama said this, "in too many parts of the world the concept of peace remains an abstract concept". I felt his entire speech remains an abstract concept.

In talking about nuclear non proliferation, he mentioned Iran and North Korea and said they would be "held accountable" for non compliance but never said how that would happen. That's what President Bush said for the better part of two terms and throughout both continued to pursue nuclear weapons with impugnity. President Obama said he would pursue an agreement with Russia and "forge new alliances". All of this sounds nice and it is also ultimately worthless. We have a complicated world and so far the president has no answers for either Iran's or North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Without a clear plan there, nuclear non proliferation is a nice concept without a plan.

With regard to the pursuit of peace, the President was even more broad. We will "form new alliances", "work together" and "work tirelessly". This is the sort of thing that the president said would happen in pursuit of peace. He scolded the Israelis for settlement expansion and Palestine for pursuing terrorism. The only news was the unprecedented confrontation by an American president of Israeli policy at the UN. The president said it was long past time we had a two state solution. This is of course a concept first introduced by his predecessor but the president didn't point that out. Besides having Abbas and Netanyahu sit down with him, the President had no specific plan to accomplish this two state solution.

On climate change, this part of the speech was similarly broad. China and India are not on board with the president's climate vision. He didn't even mention them by name. He certainly had no answers for how he would achieve his vision without their cooperation. Once again, we will "pursue cooperation" along with a host of soaring rhetoric that has no practical solution.

The portion dedicated to a new global economy was similarly broad. We would "confront corrupt regimes", "work together" and build a "global regulatory framework". All of this sounds nice. It's no different than things he's said for the last nine months. So far, besides broad outlines, the president has no answers.

Don't get me wrong. Speeches like this are fine. I certainly could have gone without the backhanded slaps at his predecessor. His criticism of Israel was, in my opinion, misguided. Still, most of what he said we can all agree with. Everyone would like a two state solution, however simply calling for it isn't enough. It's been nine months and even supporters must admit that so far there's little specific to back up his vision. He was criticized yesterday for similarly laying out his climate change vision at another speech while giving no specific solutions. At some point, the time for soaring rhetoric ends and specific solutions begin. There was none of that here. No one can walk away feeling confident that the president has any answers to solve any of the pillars that he mentioned. Those must come at some point, and they should come sooner rather than later. They didn't come this morning.


Anonymous said...

Better to be vague (Obama) than wrong (Bush).

mike volpe said...

Yeah, that wore out five or six months ago. Bush is no longer president. drop it. Obama can't be vague or Iran will get nukes, we'll lose in Afghanistan, and we'll get attacked. It's that simple.

CB said...

Obama seems determined to earn a place in history solely by means of making "historic" speeches. Eventually, he's going to have to DO something or his whole presidency is going to topple under the weight of his lofty-sounding rhetoric. FDR and JFK were known for their oratorical achievements but, in both cases, there was real substance behind the rhetoric. IOW, they were men capable of taking firm action and their speeches were a way of providing leadership in the areas where they sought action. For BHO, it seems as though speech-making IS about the only action he can or wants to take. He's all hat, no cattle.

lisa said...

If he succeeds he will go down as the greatest president in history.

If he fails he will go down as the greatest president in history.