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

2. America and the Free Arab Public: An Awkward Conversation

Despite the global venue, President Obama’s primary audience will be a U.S. electorate traumatized by the recent killing of four U.S. diplomats in Libya. Republican critics cite that debacle as evidence that the Administration has taken an overly optimistic view of the consequences of Arab democracy and the overthrow of U.S.-backed dictators. Obama’s readiness to engage with the democratically elected Islamist governments in Egypt and Tunisia is being cast as naiveté by Washington hawks. Campaign concerns require Obama to talk tough to the Arab world and demand that it tackle extremism, even if strategic realities demand a more nuanced approach.

A year ago, it was left to the likes of President Obama to talk about the promise of the Arab rebellion at the General Assembly; this year, democratically elected leaders of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt will speak for themselves. And as President Morsy made clear in a New York Times interview published on Sunday, those Arab leaders are coming to the U.N. not as supplicants but as confident representatives of an Arabic public opinion long suppressed by Western-friendly dictators. They want ties with the West but on terms quite different from those that worked for the likes of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and they are ready to challenge the U.S. foreign policy in the region. Morsy, leader of the country long regarded as the strategic lynchpin of the region, has left no doubt about his intention to pursue a genuinely independent foreign policy: his recent visit to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran irked the U.S. and Israel, but the speech he delivered there, in which he castigated Iran over its support for Syria’s Assad regime, annoyed his hosts.

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While Obama and other Western leaders will need to respond to the wave of often deadly protests against an Islam-bashing propaganda film privately produced in California, Morsy and other Arab and Muslim leaders are just as keen to have that conversation — although not to be scolded over the extremists in their midst. Instead, they’re coordinating, through the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to demand that the U.N. enact a kind of global blasphemy law outlawing hurtful attacks on their religion and the beliefs of others. That’s hardly a prospect the liberal industrialized states are likely to entertain, but it’s symbolic of the fact that many Muslim governments want to push back on the protest issue by highlighting long-standing grievances with U.S. policies in the Middle East. That’s not a conversation that Obama will see much benefit in even starting just five weeks ahead of the election.

3. Bibi vs. Ahmadinejad, Bibi vs. Abbas

Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech so belligerent on Iran and so derisive of the Arab rebellions — and, indeed, of the U.N. itself — that it was unlikely to have convinced anyone outside of his own delegation. But convincing the international community is not the goal of Netanyahu’s speeches warning of a new Holocaust ostensibly taking shape in Iran while a feckless international community turns away; his target audience was the U.S. electorate.

Netanyahu has spent the interceding year sounding many of the same themes, mostly directed at the Obama Administration (which, according to Israeli journalists, is what he means by “international community”) and threatening unilateral military action. But on both counts, lately, he’s run into trouble, having isolated himself not only from all of Israel’s key foreign allies with his threats to bomb Iran but also from his country’s military and security establishment. He’s also run into some uncharacteristically blunt criticism, both at home and from longtime Israel supporters in Washington, for interfering in U.S. domestic politics. While Netanyahu is likely to keep the pressure on Western powers over Iran, mindful of the strengthening possibility that Obama will be re-elected, he may choose to adopt a more measured tone this time around.

Apocalyptic talk about Iran, of course, has a way of keeping any discussion about the Palestinians off the agenda. Indeed, Netanyahu’s critics in the Israeli security establishment, as well as Israel’s allies in Europe, have accused the Prime Minister of showing no serious intent to move forward any peace process with the Palestinians. No one would agree more than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is blamed by Netanyahu for the absence of progress on negotiations. Abbas may be facing the beginnings of an Arab Spring–type rebellion that could well sweep away his authoritarian Administration, which was designed as the advance guard of a Palestinian state but has effectively become an arm of the status quo.

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Abbas has been threatening to force the Palestinian issue back on the agenda by seeking General Assembly recognition of a Palestinian State as a nonmember state, a status equivalent to that of the Vatican. Unlike in the Security Council, the U.S. holds no veto power in the General Assembly. In the latter, the Palestinians would likely win overwhelming support. But Washington managed to thwart Abbas last year when he approached the Security Council for recognition of statehood, through a combination of threats to withhold economic and diplomatic support for the Authority and to veto any affirmative resolution. Electoral concerns may incline Obama to slap down the Palestinians and insist they return to a negotiating table where Abbas has long ago concluded Israel isn’t willing to offer the minimum he needs, but sentiment in the Arab world right now would take that as confirmation of the U.S. animus toward Muslim interests claimed by anti-American propagandists.

If Abbas decides to swing for his political legacy by declaring independence from a U.S. policy that appears unlikely for the foreseeable future to deliver Palestinian freedom, he could make life difficult for Obama — and force Netanyahu onto the defensive. But if he confines himself to a few symbolic gestures, Netanyahu will concentrate his fire on Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes his own valedictory address in his favorite forum on Wednesday. Don’t expect him to discuss Syria, although he may dwell on issues like Israel’s opposition to the Arab call for a convention on pursuing a nuclear-free Middle East and also on the apparent intention of the Obama Administration to revoke the terrorist designation of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin e-Khalq as signs of Western hypocrisy. Having Ahmadinejad posturing defiantly in New York is exactly the sort of image Obama’s domestic critics will seize on to fashion new pre-election attacks.

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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...