Monday, September 28, 2009

more on Obama's speech

My colleague Steve Russell sent me this message from Louie Milojevic. It is refreshing to hear this international response to Obama's speech, thanks Steve, thanks Louie:

I guess not everybody wants to lynch him....
Russell, Steve

Sent: Monday, September 28, 2009 9:27 AM
To: Pepinsky, Harold E.


U-Turn at the UN? President Obama Reveals an Unconventional Approach to
Troubled World Body

By Louie Milojevic

Mr. Milojevic is a PhD Student in History at American University in
Washington D.C.

In his first address to the United Nations Barack Obama tried something
that none of his predecessors had ever contemplated; he spoke to the
General Assembly as President of the United States, and not as the
leader of the free world. Political leanings aside, American presidents
from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush have used the United Nations as a
platform from which to project national power and ensure the continuity
of the ‘American way’ in international affairs. A bedrock principle in
America’s relations with the United Nations, there has been more than
one way that presidents have pursued this goal. Some have assumed
leadership through intimidation, others by avoiding responsibility, and
there have also been optimistic presidents who placed an unreasonable
amount of political capital in the world body. President Obama’s address
reflected none of these philosophies.

Prominent critics, such as former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,
John Bolton, have charged that Obama’s address sponsors an idealistic
and naive foreign policy. “Hope,” of course did come into a play a few
times, it would not have been an Obama speech without it. However, this
was not solely an attempt to enhance the organization’s international
profile, as did Jimmy Carter so often during his presidency. Carter’s
public enthusiasm and respect for the United Nations improved America’s
relations with the Third World by leaps and bounds, but in the process
he lost the American voters who were more concerned with ‘stagflation’
at home. Obama faces a similar constituency today, and that is why he
emphasized early on and unequivocally that his primary responsibility is
to the American people and their interests.

That being said, Obama took a calculated political risk in laying out
his administration’s extensive efforts to prohibit the use of torture,
close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and responsibly withdraw U.S. forces
from Iraq. There was no defeatism here though, nor was there an attempt
to apologize for the Bush administration’s transgressions. Rather, Obama
urged General Assembly members to accept a collective responsibility in
solving the world’s problems. U.S. presidents have rarely entertained
such a notion, preferring instead to focus the blame elsewhere while
maintaining the righteousness of America’s cause. This mindset resulted
in much of the international deadlock that plagued UN initiatives in the
1950s and 1960s.

As President of the United States, Obama also made sure to introduce,
and not unilaterally declare, this “new era of engagement.” No
ultimatums were issued, nor were there threats of vanquishing the United
Nations into irrelevance if America’s ideas were not universally
embraced. In a stark contrast to President George W. Bush’s domineering
style, Obama assumed the familiar role of university professor, clearly
and concisely analyzing the present state of the world, advocating
common sense, and an inward and collective honesty among the delegates.

With the Bush administration as the most recent point of comparison, it
is not at all surprising that Obama’s address has been viewed as a sharp
reversal in American-UN relations. In actuality, the address suggests
more than that. At this point in his presidency Obama has managed to
retain much of his international popularity. He could easily have ridden
that wave of support to the General Assembly podium, and resumed an
American centered approach to international relations. Instead, he came
as a leader and citizen of one nation, and as a concerned parent. This
is an approach Americans have never witnessed, but it may actually make


  1. It is refreshing to hear this international response to Obama's speech, thanks Steve, thanks Louie:speech recognition software

  2. In actuality, the address suggests more than that. speech recognition program