President Obama injected a much needed shot of hope combined with strong leadership Tuesday morning as he addressed the United Nations General Assembly, saying, “we come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.” He focused on his vision for the world, saying “America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.”
The President reiterated that we are not at war with Islam and never will be, but that “We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come.”
Obama directly addressed people’s fears, “And yet there is a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers, and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces. As we gather here, an outbreak of Ebola overwhelms public health systems in West Africa, and threatens to move rapidly across borders. Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition. The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness.”
Obama got to the heart of the matter, “Of course, terrorism is not new. Speaking before this Assembly, President Kennedy put it well: ‘Terror is not a new weapon,’ he said. ‘Throughout history it has been used by those who could not prevail, either by persuasion or example.'”
Obama reiterated one of the major differences in his foreign policy by reminding everyone that he will not base his entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism, “I have made it clear that America will not base our entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism. Rather, we have waged a focused campaign against al Qaeda and its associated forces – taking out their leaders, and denying them the safe-havens they rely upon.”
President Obama refused to allow the terrorists to divide us, “At the same time, we have reaffirmed that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims the world over aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice. And when it comes to America and Islam, there is no us and them – there is only us, because millions of Muslim Americans are part of the fabric of our country.”
The President reminded everyone that we are not in a religious war and he rejects all suggestions of such extremism, “So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. Belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists who cannot build or create anything, and therefore peddle only fanaticism and hate. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.”
Speaking as someone who walked his talk in working together with the UN to address global problems like terrorism, Obama said, “Fellow delegates, we come together as United Nations with a choice to make. We can renew the international system that has enabled so much progress, or allow ourselves to be pulled back by an undertow of instability. We can reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront global problems, or be swamped by more and more outbreaks of instability.” The President continued, “For America, the choice is clear. We choose hope over fear. We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort. We reject fatalism or cynicism when it comes to human affairs; we choose to work for the world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be.”
Obama has a unique qualification to speak about working together, his administration having led the charge that resulted in five Arab nations working together against ISIL. Calling ISIL a “network of death”, the President said they must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed. This is the Obama doctrine in play. We might not like the air strikes, but we are not cowboying it alone. We are not riding roughshod alone over sovereign nations. And we must take action.
The President was able to make the point that the very purpose of the UN is being exemplified and called upon as we face horrific terrorism, “There is much that must be done to meet the tests of this moment. But today I’d like to focus on two defining questions at the root of many of our challenges- whether the nations here today will be able to renew the purpose of the UN’s founding; and whether we will come together to reject the cancer of violent extremism.”
All nations must abide, “First, all of us – big nations and small – must meet our responsibility to observe and enforce international norms.” And everyone needs to get on board, “It is time for the world – especially Muslim communities – to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL It is the task of all great religions to accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world.”
And boom. The Obama doctrine: “We are here because others realized that we gain more from cooperation than conquest.” He condemned the Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, calling out the might-makes-right doctrine (Bushian), “This is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.”
Some details, “America and our allies will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy. We will reinforce our NATO allies, and uphold our commitment to collective defense. We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth. We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.”
“Moreover, a different path is available – the path of diplomacy and peace and the ideals this institution is designed to uphold.” Obama articulated his belief that we can solve or problems by working together “in a spirit of mutual interests and mutual respect.”
Obama listed signposts of progress to lift the spirits of the fearful and weary as the world faces yet another terrorist threat, and used this opportunity to remind people that while things feel bleak right now, “I often tell young people in the United States that this is the best time in human history to be born, for you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, and to be free to pursue your dreams.”
“After nearly six years as President, I believe that this promise can help light the world. Because I’ve seen a longing for positive change – for peace and freedom and opportunity – in the eyes of young people I’ve met around the globe.”
The President must have sensed the war-weary depression — exacerbated by bad news upon bad news — descending upon Americans. He needed to lead them out of the darkness, and he did. President Obama shone a light on the vision for working together to eradicate the evils of the world from hunger to terrorism.
Into this bleak moment, President Obama managed to inject his hope and vision for the future, and walk his talk. That’s what a real leader does.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.