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

4. China and Japan Square Off

China and Japan have long been the sort of U.N. member states that don’t like to talk about themselves. Instead, they’ve reliably offered speeches long on uncontroversial multilateral platitudes on the issues of the day — the sort of speeches that might as well be read into the record for all the interest they arouse in news editors and producers. This year may be different: in a time-honored symptom of economic anxiety, there’s been a fierce upsurge of nationalist fervor in both Tokyo and Beijing over rival claims to a splatter of uninhabited islets called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan. With Japan facing an election and China in the throes of its complicated once-a-decade leadership transition, neither side is showing any inclination to back down, instead allowing populist grandstanding in both countries to escalate.

(PHOTOS: Anti-Japan Protests Hit China’s Capital)

As my colleague Hannah Beech recently noted, the showdown is a headache for the Obama Administration:

Last year, President Barack Obama pledged to pivot U.S. foreign policy toward Asia, a shift designed to recognize the economic ascendancy of the world’s most populous continent. But the move was also viewed as an effort to contain a rising — and a more militarily assertive — China. During the Secretary of Defense’s visit to Japan, he unveiled plans for the two countries to develop a second missile-defense system for the island nation, which worries about a threat from a nuclear North Korea backed by the Chinese. The announcement of this joint U.S.-Japan radar shield naturally didn’t please Beijing.

At the start of his Asia trip, Panetta warned of how quickly regional territorial tensions could blaze out of control. (China is also sparring with maritime neighbors, like Vietnam and the Philippines, over disputed shoals and islands in the South China Sea.) “A misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict,” Panetta said. By the time he arrived in Beijing, the U.S. Secretary of Defense was urging cooler heads to prevail: “With respect to these current tensions, we are urging calm and restraint by all sides and encourage them to maintain open channels of communication in order to resolve these disputes diplomatically and peacefully.”

But there’s no sign of tensions abating as world leaders head to New York: Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and the Chinese leadership have signaled their intention to take the dispute to the U.N. this week. Although Washington’s Asia “pivot” is all about containing Chinese ambitions, the Obama Administration is unlikely to welcome being drawn into a confrontation with Beijing at a moment when so many other foreign policy priorities, such as Iran and Syria as well as economic and financial concerns, demand that the U.S. seek a more cooperative relationship with China.

5. Ignoring the Perils of Climate Change

In the popular HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones, the phrase “winter is coming” is often invoked to signal a looming climate shift that will profoundly alter the security of a human realm distracted by its myriad power struggles. In the real world, of course, it’s not winter that’s coming but rather a warming of the planet that will bring with it catastrophic weather patterns that will in turn have a profound impact on global economic well-being and security. But you wouldn’t know that watching events at the U.N. this week.

(VIDEO: Chasing Ice: Time-Lapse Photography)

Boilerplate declarations on the need to tackle climate change have been de rigueur in U.N. speeches for the past decade, of course. But agreement on meaningful international action to curb the output of carbon gases is hopelessly stalled as major industrialized countries and emerging economies find their economic woes reinforcing a long-standing reluctance to agree to the terms of their interlocutors on how the burden of carbon cuts should be shared. The only speakers who’ll address the issue with passionate urgency in New York this week are the leaders of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Tuvalu and other tiny Pacific island nations whose very survival is threatened by rising sea levels and changing weather patterns. But as compelling as their pleas may be, they simply don’t carry any sort of geopolitical leverage. Still, President Obama and other leaders of major industrialized powers know the science and they’ve seen the statistics; they can’t be unaware of the dramatic shifts in the climate already under way and their potentially catastrophic effects on global security and power relations — even if it’s politically as inconvenient as ever, if not more so, to begin doing what has to be done.

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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...