Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Frustrated Obama at United Nations?

I'm going to do something I've never done before on my humble, embarrassingly casual blog, and introduce an unintentional-guest writer.
As you may know, I am covering the United Nations General Assembly currently, and my friend, formerly a fellow television news producer in our D.C. bureau, shared his thoughts after hearing President Obama's speech this morning. The content was insightful, not to mention well-written, I just had to share it with you.

And so, as editor and photographer only, I give you:

Not the best photo thanks to the odd lighting above them, but I took this just before the President's speech. - 9/24/2014

A Frustrated Obama at United Nations?

Graham Nelson  
Freelance Writer/Producer
804-335-5709 | @jetgrahamradio|

Obama started speaking at 10:13 AM and finished at 10:52 AM, making his speech 39 minutes long. I may have been the only one able to watch it all, so I give my impressions. 

It was not a speech full of concrete details and proposals. As expected, Obama addressed three topics: Russia, Ebola, and the terrorist threat in Syria and Iraq. His message on these topics was not so surprising. I would sum them up as: we must stop all of them.  

What did surprise me was a pessimistic tone throughout his speech. He spoke about the "failure of the international system." He used the words "undertow of instability." "Swamp." "Outbreak." At multiple points, he seemed frustrated -- scolding and lecturing other countries, particularly in the Middle East, and attempting to speak directly to youth populations.

To me, this was not "hope and change" Obama. This was "we hope YOU change" Obama.  

Obama was subdued on the Asia/Pacific. He did not mention China by name when "insisting" that all nations resolve territorial disputes peacefully, consistent with international law. I suspect America feels too stretched at the moment to move much in the Asia/Pacific. 

The same is true of Iran, which Obama treated fairly kindly. He called it, merely, the "Iranian nuclear issue." Not crisis. Not pursuit of nuclear weapons. Clearly, he feels he needs their help on ISIS. 

On ISIS, he pledged to degrade and dismantle their network and called them a lot of bad names -- "network of death" was the best one. But he also called on governments in the region, and Islamic religious leaders, to disavow violent interpretations of Islam and using armed proxies to solve conflicts.

On a side note, he went off script on Israel briefly. He noted that "it's something for Israelis to consider" that many Israelis have given up the pursuit of peace. 

In very direct language, Obama accused Russia of eroding world and UN values. 
I would have to ask Elliot whether this is his normal language now. I was very surprised by it!! Things have changed so much in two years between the US and Russia: Obama and Medvedev used to eat hamburgers together in DC! 

Lastly, it was interesting that Obama felt the need to mention events in Ferguson, MO. Perhaps this has undermined US standing more than I thought. 

Editor's note!!
This last comment on Ferguson really is how Graham's email ended, and is particularly timely. Not only did I just (finally) post about my experience and impressions from going to Ferguson, Missouri, last night, there was a return to violent protesting there, which may in fact be the reason the presdient chose to touch on it.

Next, I'd like to share with you my colleague and current D.C. news producer's reaction for further insight and context. Without any further delay, please read on!:

Elliot Waldman
Japanese Television News Producer, Washington D.C.

Good thoughts Graham, thanks! I interpreted Obama’s strongly negative language as reflective of the administration’s desire to project a clear-eyed understanding of danger. One of the most persistent criticisms that has dogged Obama’s foreign policy pretty much since day one has been the perception of inaction. No doubt, part of this is due to the fact that his predecessor was so active in combating real and perceived/inflated threats with big flashy military interventions. Obama can’t help but seem timid in comparison, and his opponents take full advantage of this by incessantly beating their war drums to the delight of the media. Plus, his manner and style are that of a calm and collected professor, which lends credence to the criticism that he doesn’t take seriously Putin’s neo-imperial machinations or the full extent of Islamic extremism.

Now, at a critical time when Obama is seeking a mandate from the international community as well as his domestic constituents for another multi-year military effort in the Middle East, the last thing he wants to do is project an air of sanguinity (sic). Last year, dogged by the NSA scandal, Obama was on defense, trying to play the role of conciliator while trying to make the case that the US still has a strong and constructive role to play in the world. (Remember how much play Rousseff got for her blistering attack on mass surveillance? Compare that with this year.) Now he’s in full offense mode, essentially telling the world that it’s put up or shut up time.

On a different note, I was also surprised by the relatively long section on Ferguson. Perhaps other countries’ accusations of hypocrisy over that incident stung more than we imagined?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Ok... I asked for it. What do you think?