In his address to the U.N. General Assembly this morning, the president cited the toppling of Tripoli and the ousting of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi as the quintessential example of “how the international community is supposed to work.”
“The will of the coalition proved unbreakable, and the will of the Libyan people could not be denied,” Obama said. “Forty-two years of tyranny was ended in six months [by] nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, individuals claiming their rights.”
BHO also mentioned his one unequivocal foreign policy success — the capture and kill of Osama bin Laden — and cast the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq as a notable achievement.
“Let there be no doubt: the tide of war is receding,” he said. “When I took office, roughly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of this year, that number will be cut in half, and it will continue to decline. This is critical to the sovereignty of Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the strength of the United States as we build our nation at home.”
But, for all the reminders of past triumphs, the theme of the address — “peace is possible in an imperfect world” — still struck a hollow note in light of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ bid for U.N. recognition of an independent Palestinian state, a direct flouting of the president’s pleas for ongoing peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis and a development that leaves the U.S. with little option but to erase whatever goodwill we’ve built up with the Mideast of late.
“One year ago,” Obama said, “I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine. I believed then – and I believe now – that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences.”
In fact, the president’s call for an independent Palestine last year contributed to Abbas’ audacity this year: With his words in support of Palestinian statehood, President Obama unwittingly set himself up to be the star of an ad advocating an independent Palestinian state. Abbas called the comment “Obama’s promise.” But, Obama made doubly clear today, such a promise is not his to make in the first place because only the Israelis and Palestinians can make peace with each other.
“I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress,” he said. “So am I. But the question isn’t the goal we seek – the question is how to reach it. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem.”
The president said the United States will maintain its “unshakeable” commitment to Israel’s security — but also called for the Israelis and Palestinians to walk in each other’s shoes and sought to legitimize the aspirations of both sides.
The president’s address to the General Assembly today followed a brief speech to the Libya Contact Group Tuesday, in which the president waxed still more enthusiastic about the “courage and collective will” of the international community as regards the Libyan mission.