‘This progress is real’: Obama makes case for diplomacy in blunt UN speech

by Howard LaFranchi – September 28, 2015

The Christian Science Monitor

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — President Obama offered his own version of “you’re either with us or against us” at the United Nations Monday, presenting world leaders with a choice between rule of law and diplomacy to resolve conflict – or deepening disorder and chaos.

The president hailed the Iran nuclear agreement reached over the summer – contrasting that diplomatic effort and its “potential to avert a war” with the “strongman” approach behind the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts.

Bluntly calling out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin for disregarding the rule of law, Mr. Obama said those two conflicts exemplify a threatened “return” to the old ideas that “might makes right, that the rights of individuals don’t matter, and that order must be imposed by force.”

In that way, Obama’s speech was not about new initiatives or proposals for global development.

Instead, the president chose the 70th anniversary of the founding of the UN and his own twilight in power to underscore to the international community the principles of democracy, inalienable human rights, and international cooperation that are at the basis of the progress he said an imperfect UN has achieved.

“This speech was a strong affirmation of the commitment to international law and the real power of multilateral cooperation,” says Michael Doyle, director of the Global Policy Initiative at New York’s Columbia University and a former UN special adviser. “I think the point was to remind the leaders about the principles that we have learned to advance human progress, but also the actions and motivations that set things back.”

Obama cited the success of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, the ability of diplomacy to stop regional conflicts and international rivalries from setting off a third world war, and the global community’s recent success in raising a billion people out of extreme poverty.

“This progress is real,” he said. “It can be documented in lives saved, and agreements forged, and diseases conquered, and in mouths fed.” But he added that “the march of human progress never travels in a straight line,” and warned that “dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.”

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