The U.N. General Assembly: 5 Political Potholes for Obama

Tricky relations with an emerging Arab public, Netanyahu's shaming rhetoric and a growing China-Japan spat. What's to love about the U.N. for a President whose appointment with his electorate is just weeks away?

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Richard Drew / AP

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2012

Blink and you may miss President Barack Obama’s appearance at the annual U.N. General Assembly this week. The President plans to make the briefest visit by a U.S. President in recent memory at the annual diplomatic shindig, holding the quick chat required by tradition with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before delivering his own address and then hightailing it across town to address the Clinton Global Forum before leaving town altogether. With campaign duties calling, and more pitfalls than prospects on the global scene right now, the President will skip the customary bilateral meetings on the General Assembly sidelines, leaving the likes of France’s President François Hollande feeling a little, well, snubbed. And then there’s Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrives in New York City on Thursday, with unnamed officials of his government having told the Israeli media that Obama turned down a request for a meeting. The White House denies that claim, but don’t expect Netanyahu — some of whose previous remarks on Iran’s nuclear program are being used in attack ads against Obama running in Florida — to make life easy for the President among those voters who might take their cue from the Israeli leader come November.

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The U.S. presidential election, now just five weeks away, will likely shape Obama’s own address, making it more likely to be a campaign speech rather than a form of diplomatic engagement. Expect to hear strong words on Iran’s nuclear defiance and some righteous scolding of Russia and China for using their veto power to block Security Council action on Syria. The President will likely reaffirm his commitment to Israel’s security, and no one ought be surprised if he repeats last year’s rebuke of the Palestinians for once again seeking U.N. recognition of their statehood claim. But a trickier challenge arises for Obama in honing a message on the recent surge in anti-American radicalism on display in the protest spurred by the Islam-bashing film made in California. That firestorm has been seized on by Obama’s Republican challengers to question his stewardship of U.S. foreign policy. And the delicate dance required in responding to the protests is just one of five key challenges facing the President. Here they are:

1. Syria’s Stubborn Stalemate

The U.N.’s original raison d’être is the prevention of war, which makes Syria’s steadily mounting death toll, and the danger that its civil war could trigger a regionwide conflagration, the top security issue facing this year’s General Assembly. But the U.N. has been unable to stop the bloodletting, because key member states continue to pursue their geopolitical goals through opposite sides of the conflict.

Obama and the leaders of France, Britain and even Saudi Arabia may castigate Russia and China for blocking Security Council action, but those countries feel just as righteous in using their veto power to deny Western powers a legal basis to reprise the Libya intervention that ousted the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. When Secretary-General Ban demands that all member states stop weapons entering Syria, the Western powers focus on Russian and Iranian arms shipments to the regime, while Moscow, Beijing and others focus on the alleged involvement of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in covertly arming the rebels. Ban has warned that there’s no military solution to be had in Syria and urged international players to persuade Syria’s regime and its rebels to embrace that reality. But absent any consensus among the big powers, the main Syria action at the General Assembly will be on the sidelines — and may not involve the Obama Administration.

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The Friends of Syria group comprising Western and Arab backers of the rebellion are scheduled to meet on Friday, but with no change in strategy on the horizon, they’re simply expected to incrementally increase their sanctions against President Bashar Assad’s regime. The more interesting meeting, if it occurs, will be the planned confab of the Syria “contact group” convened last week by Egypt’s new President, Mohamed Morsy, and which includes Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The U.S. and its allies have fiercely resisted any discussion on Syria that involves Iran, arguing that Tehran’s direct support of and involvement in the regime’s crackdown makes it part of the problem rather than party to any solution. But Morsy, like Ban, a former U.N. peace envoy, and even Qatar, argues that precisely because of Iran’s support of the regime, its inclusion gives any consensus by the contact group greater traction on the ground. One crucial indicator to watch for, in New York City, is whether Saudi Arabia attends any meeting of that group. The Saudis stayed away from the inaugural session in Cairo last week; if they attend in New York, that could be a sign that a regional solution may be possible, since the regional strategic rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran remains a key element reinforcing the Syrian conflict.

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14 comments
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Sebastian Kaine
Sebastian Kaine

First off we need to disconnect ourselves entirely from the UN.  No foreign power should ever have any say so on America, but that is another story for another time.  Obama is gutless and weak.  He is a shameless apologizer with no backbone.  Make no mistake that is how he is seen by other world leaders.  Then he heaps on the ridicule of America on a world stage by openly snubbing some of our greatest historical allies.  Yeah, this guy is all for America.  Perhaps at this point it is best that he doesn't say anything else, he's done enough damage.  We need a potus who can stand tall, be respected, and even a little feared by the majority of the despots and dictators who make up the UN. Someone who will make these backwards, stone age people pause as they consider dealing falsely or aggressively with America.  Right now they know they can do anything they want, kill citizens, kill high ranking officials, and the only thing obama will do is ignore or apologize.  Democrat or Republican, how can the anti-American actions of the current potus do anything but disgust you?  (and yes I believe there are republican and democratic patriots left who want what's best for America, they are just not in the majority, or are as spineless as our potus right now)

Marie Bano
Marie Bano

The Republicans are getting desperate trying to act as if Obama is a weak Leader with a bad foreign policy. The US has been kept safe for 4 years and the US has not been dragged into war. No one could have predicted 4 deaths in Libya but the people of Benghazi have now driven the militias out. 3,000 died on 9/11 and we went through 2 wars under Bush. The Republicans seem to have forgotten this real quick. Romney has been running for President for 8 years and managed to anger the British, Chinese, Russians and Palestinians. We do not need a Neo con Bush return.

Yeshuratnam
Yeshuratnam

When Reagan visited the UN, he stood tall among world leaders in dignity and elegance. He was respected as the most powerful leader on earth. He liberated the American hostages from Tehran and he was responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Obama goes to the UN like a clown when his foreign policy has been reduced to shambles as we witness today the turmoil in the Middle East. The murder of the American Ambassador is a national humiliation like 9/11, and yet Obama  acts as if nothing had happened. During Obama's presidency, America has lost its superior status in world politics and today Beijing and Moscow are dictating terms. How can Obama face these potholes?

akahen
akahen

This President has failed in every aspect of his presidency.  From Israeli and Middle East Policy, to Iranian nuclear issue to Iranian Protests and Green Movement, to Syria, to China, .....

Seriously, why is this guy still enjoying popularity?  Oh yeah, I forgot, the Media is behind him and he is their love child. 

I am sick and tired of faliures.  I am sick and tired of dumb Presidents.  Let's keep changing these Presidents until we find a good one.  Bush was the first dumb mistakes and then was Obama and ...Let's not repeat the same mistake that we made with Bush to elect him to second terms. 

Yes, I am an indepdent voter who is very furious with this President. 

rokinsteve
rokinsteve

Bush was the first dumb mistake that almost destroyed this country.

Fixed it for you. 

Amit_Atlanta_USA
Amit_Atlanta_USA

Even as the world's attention is being diluted with the Iranian nuclear imbroglio and the current turmoil in the ME, two of the GREATEST THREATS facing the western world emanate from Jihadist Pakistan and the Pakistani (amp; Muslim) Diaspora. These are

a)  Pakistan adding to their stockpile of ISLAMIC BOMBS (Self declared) at a pace faster than any other world power, and hwo Pakistan is BLACKMAILING the world with its nukes (read all about it from Pakistan's own reputed Nuclear Scientist and Fullbright Scholar Pervez Hoodbhoy):

http://herald.dawn.com/2011/08...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

b) The Muslim diaspora in the west, particularly the Pakistan diaspora which per FBI, MI-6's own calculation pose the greatest internal threat to western civilization.

In this context it's interesting to note the threats from Pakistan's top diplomat in the UK - their High Commisioner Walid Shamsul Hassan who threatned of terror attacks on the streets of London by the over 1 million strong Pakistani immgrants there.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new...

Half of British Pakistani Muslims ready to fight for Al-Qeada:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new...

Bill Pearlman
Bill Pearlman

The UN was a decent idea in 1946 now its just a theater of the absurd. BTW Obama is the smartest president we've ever had. And Hillarys brilliance knows no bounds. According to the pundits at  Time anyway. What could possibly go wrong?

Chhajuram Induscharwak
Chhajuram Induscharwak

Syria's situation is the worst but world' largest form is helpless. The demand of present evolutionary form of globalization is the Security Council must be democratized otherwise humanity bound to suffer more and more tragedy.

karur
karur

These pot holes are not earth shattering and not likely to influence Obama's policies are alter the equation at the Presidential elections. Syria will continue to simmer, with both sides being armed by support States. Arab Spring and the agenda of Islamists will continue to play out, with the US having little influence. Netanyahu's will continue to play his usual war mongering acts with little impact on the US electorate, although he fancies his importance. Japan and China have bigger fish to fry and no conflagration is likely. Hence, Obama can focus on the elections. The Clinton summit will be the real theatre to watch

Private Investigator
Private Investigator

These are the elite...really, conducting no resolve for many of the worlds problems...

They congest our streets, yet we hope they add to our economy...This is the worst week to be in NYC...Be advised...