THE 2016 DEMOCRAT PLATFORM’S FOREIGN AND NATIONAL SECURITY POSITIONS: TERRORISM
Harry C. Blaney III
This is another text on foreign and national security platform of the Democratic Party with commentary with this post we have covered all but one of the more major issues in the platform. Climate change and environment will be posted shortly.
TEXT OF 2016 DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM
We must defeat ISIS, al Qaeda, and their affiliates, and prevent other groups from emerging in their place. Democrats will continue to lead a broad coalition of allies and partners to destroy ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq and Syria. We will press those in the region, especially the Gulf countries and local forces on the ground, to carry their weight in prosecuting this fight. We will dismantle the global network of terror, which supplies terrorists with money, arms, and fighters, and stop them from recruiting and inspiring potential radicals. We will improve our intelligence capabilities, with appropriate safeguards here at home, and ensure that the intelligence community and law enforcement is prepared to deal effectively with the threats we face. We will harden our defenses as well as those of our partners against external and homegrown threats. We will secure the homeland, investing more resources to improve mass transit, aviation, infrastructure, and port security. And we will remain a resilient nation, always coming together to stand up to terror.
Democrats will seek an updated Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that is more precise about our efforts to defeat ISIS and that does not involve large-scale combat deployment of American troops.
As we prosecute the fight against terrorism, Democrats will repudiate vile tactics that would do us harm. We reject Donald Trump’s vilification of Muslims. It violates the religious freedom that is the bedrock of our country and feeds into ISIS’ nefarious narrative. It also alienates people and countries who are crucial to defeating terrorism; the vast majority of Muslims believe in a future of peace and tolerance. We reject Donald Trump’s suggestion that our military should engage in war crimes, like torturing prisoners or murdering civilian family members of suspected terrorists. These tactics run counter to American principles, undermine our moral standing, cost innocent lives, and endanger Americans. We also firmly reject Donald Trump’s willingness to mire tens of thousands of our combat troops in another misguided ground war in the Middle East, which would only further embolden ISIS. There is nothing smart or strong about such an approach.
Much of this text on terrorism followers the main elements of the policies and strategy of the present administration. As a general summary of the approach makes much sense and there has been much success in such areas as taking ground from ISIS and in denying money and other resources to ISIS. It has become writ that we expect the states of the region play a more prominent role in the defeat of ISIS.
This today is exemplified by the recent August 24th attack by Turkish forces including planes and tanks against ISIS terrorists along Turkey’s Syrian border in the area of the town of Jarablus. What is unsaid is to what degree this will impact our need to have the Kurdish forces that are key to defeating ISIS, taking on Assad, and also their role of actions against terrorists in Iraq. The press reports that American planes are supporting the Turkish advance but Turkish leaders have made clear they will attack Kurdish force if the advance into territory near Turkey. That makes for a very complex situation. The Jarablus town is only 95 kilometers from the key city of Aleppo. It is understood that Turkish backed Syrian rebels are working in cooperation with the Turkish forces.
Aleppo and success in Iraq may become a key indication of the success or failure of the joint American lead coalition strategy of destroying ISIS but it is also a very complex and difficult terrain both in military and political grounds. There are some six groups in Syria involved with different motives and alliances. Within the city are forces against Assad which are besieged by pro-Assad army forces, Hezbollah fighters, Iranian troops, and Iraqi Shia militia and even it is said Russian “contract soldiers.” The unknowns are first, the possible Russian response, second, the possibility of a clash between Kurd led forces and others allied with them largely supported by the US coalition, and Turkey’s own objective of destroying or limiting the Kurd power in the region near their border.
Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) are also in the fight and are made up of mainly but not solely of Kurd fighters. This mix of anti-Assad groups which have not always compatible goals makes for a high level of uncertainty of the outcome of the current fighting.
In the end, the test of the current American and allied strategy must be a Syria that is secure, a new government of all groups without Assad in control, and where terrorist do not hold large areas. At the moment the Kurdish and other Arab forces against Assad have taken the critical town of Manbij and want to advance further North and West including towards the Jarablus which could create a threat to both Turkey and Syrian rebels made up largely of Kurds if they engage each other and destroy the unity of the moment. Not least is the role North of Aleppo of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which plays a role in the defeat of ISIS and is backed by the anti-Assad coalition.
At this moment with the contending forces now fully engaged are creating an even more complex military and political situation with anti-Assad forces diminished yet still strong with Russian support. But a danger is some of these other anti-Assad forces might engaged with each other in a fight over territory and control of large areas and create still more instability. At this point American diplomacy will be key and the need for some kind of accommodation between forces is necessary to end the conflict and stabilize the region. The key today today is what will the region look like the day after ISIS is essentially defeated in both Syria and Iraq. It clearly will not stop all terrorism.
It is hard to argue with the platform idea of protecting our homeland and that of our allies against acts of terrorism. Here key specifics are missing.
Not least also in an anti-terrorist effort is the war in Iraq against ISIS which is also may be coming to some kind of unknown of conclusion but the goal of an Iraq that is untied between Sunni and Shia and Kurds and this will not happen just by defeating ISIS. This issue will be examined in another post.
The second part of the platform on terrorism reaffirms that this is not a war on Muslims, that Trump’s idea of making unlimited war is wrong, and that the idea of sending large numbers of American troops wold be counterproductive. On these stances I see no problem and are compatible with Obama’s perspective and strategy. But the presidential campaign needs to correct some of the false and dangerous assumptions and strategies by Trump that are dangerous to a true “win” over terrorism and for America’s leadership on this and other issues.
There is much one can learn from the most recent Trump speech on foreign policy. It is still scary and incredulous that there is no real “there there” with any of Trump’s foreign policy perspectives. This is especially true when he is off his text and speaks what is really in his mind at that moment and it leads him to express ideas that are his own unbalanced perceptions of reality and his worst prejudices. Yes they are often crazy and silly and not least dangerous.
The examples of going off tract and into the realm of “extreme” views is exemplified in much of this speech which was billed as a means to show a serious policy side in the foreign affairs sector. Between a few peremptory statements that were written by his so-called foreign affairs “experts” that in large part were often along the lines of our current policies, much of the speech’s content would make the world a less secure and more dangerous in a host to areas.
His statement that he would institute what he called “extreme interrogations” of Muslim immigrants and visitors to America. Once again, along with building a massive “wall” between the US and Mexico, and clear bigotry against Muslims and even deceased American Muslim war heroes, he sees only what the people at the NRA and the KKK see and this is perhaps more destructive to American democracy, its internal unity, and yes our security globally than almost any other external challenge we face abroad.
On the question of dealing with ISIS, Trump adopted much from President Barack Obama’s approach to fighting the so-called Islamic State. Trump’s outrageous perception of “solutions include in his words: “I say that you can defeat ISIS by taking their wealth. Take back the oil. Once you go over and take back that oil they have nothing. You bomb the hell out of them and then you encircle it, and then you go in. And you let Mobil go in, and you let our great oil companies go in.” Trump also said the United States should have left troops in Iraq to guard oil facilities while the U.S. took all the oil to pay for the war. All of this is clearly absurd, crude unthought through strategy, and also illegal under international law.
What he has not made clear is whether he would send massive troops into the Middle East conflicts?
One lie was his statement was when he said that he has been right about the Middle East from the start. This is not true, old video and audio clips shown on the MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” showed footage against his claim that “I have been an opponent of the Iraq War from the beginning,” as he said in his address at Youngstown State University in Ohio. But The “Morning Joe” video played a clip from Howard Stern’s radio show. At that time he asked Trump if he was for invading Iraq, and Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” The same is true when Trump also contradicted himself on the troop withdrawal or draw down in Iraq. He said on August 15th: “I have been just as clear in saying what a catastrophic mistake Hillary Clinton and President Obama made with the reckless way in which they pulled out,” But the record shows he supported pulling out of Iraq in 2007, when he said “You know how they get out? They get out,” Trump told CNN that year. “Declare victory and leave.”
He also prevaricated on Libya. In his speech he said “Libya was stable and President Obama and Hillary Clinton should never have attempted to build a democracy in Libya,” But he also he advocated for deposing Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In February 2011, Trump also said in a video filmed in his office that “Gaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people. Nobody knows how bad it is. We should go in. We should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick.”
He has been all over the map on the Middle East and time and time again he has change his position but never admitted it that he was wrong. What this shows is his clear lack of analysis, willing to face hard facts on the ground, and unwilling to accept being wrong. That is dangerous for a president and for our nation’s effective leadership in the world.
Trump repeated his previous policy to continue the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and even fill it with new detainees. He hinted at including, possibly some U.S. citizens. This facility is one of the great weapons that terrorists point to of the evil of America and a recruiting tool for ISIS. Trump does not even acknowledge this and seems to think that water boarding, torture, and mass bombing including killing of civilians is the way to conduct an effective policy in the Middle East. Even worse he has hinted at using atomic weapons. The Obama administration is trying to close Guantanamo via sending current detainees abroad, which he did recently with 15 individuals, and more are planned. But the easy and right answer is to send them to American maximum security prisons and bring them under US laws.
His stands on climate change, NATO’s unity and that of EU, the Iran deal, trade, and dealing with Russia, and on many other issues are the among the most dangerous for a viable and peaceful world and US national security.
In sum, the time has come, given Trump’s own words over time and especially now, for a true deep serious analysis of what Trump might do to American respect and security and indeed just rationality in our vital foreign and national security area.
Some in the media have done this, but in the vast conservative Republican owned mainline media and right wing radio talking heads have done little to challenge Trump’s lies and clearly deranged and unnecessary aggressive statements that have frightened our allies and embolden our adversaries. It is a high risk world where idiocy is our greatest danger. Indeed, we need more debate and even more serious examination in the media of the full range of global challenges and of what our own corrosive politics has done to our global position. Time has come for more public questioning and more attention to the implications of Trump’s policies if we are to achieve a sane and safe world.
TRUMP’S CONTRADICTORY AND SILLY FOREIGN POLICY VIEWS: A DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN?
Harry C. Blaney III
Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech which he read from a teleprompter, was a remarkable example of his overall campaign outrageous statements in an effort to appear “responsible” and it did not achieve the latter. It only showed again that much of his utterances and policies are contradictory, unrealistic, ill informed, and often accompanied by outright falsehoods.
We first have to remember that this is the man who questioned President Obama’s U.S. birth even while his birth certificate was available and he held before his election a US passport which requires proof of birth. This is the man who said he would build a wall on our Southern border and have Mexico pay for it. This is the man who would ban Muslims from coming into the U.S. for a period and forcing those living in America to register. This sounds much like Nazi Germany and his “America first” sounds like the far-right pre-war U.S. isolationist movement and the “Deutschland über alles” of the Hitler period.
Trump has already frightened our friends and allies and the likelihood of his gaining the Republican nomination and even a chance to be president has done immeasurable harm already to American standing among our friends.
In saying that “America will be great again” he misses the point that our strength is based not just on our wealth and military power but on the trust that we have earned for decades, including by President Obama, by our fairness, sense of common interest with others, and addressing the security and legitimate interests of our friends and allies. Trump with his aggressive stance and irrational and dangerous policies and statements will lose that global trust in America fast.
In each and ever major point that he made in his speech was contradicted elsewhere in his speech. At the most “macro” and fundamental level of such contradictions was his bombastic assertion not only that he would “Make America Great” (which it already is), but his “America First” and his clear stance that he could force by his will alone or by coercion and brute force his will upon the entire world, both friends and enemies. Yet nowhere does he explain exactly what the reaction of other might be to his “bullying tactics” which he embodies in his whole life’s work and as part of his fundamental character. Having spent much of my adult life as an American diplomat, I know this is NOT how to achieve cooperation of friends and allies and not how to deal with countries like China and Russia and to achieve a peaceful and safe environment for all world.
When he says in the same talk that “We want to bring peace to the world” and then talks about massive build-up of an already massive defense capability of $600 billion funding each year, in the face of more unnecessary nuclear weapons modernization, many new weapons, but already with superior advance technological capability and defense funding that is equal or greater than to the next 8 nations military budgets of both friends and possible opponents.
Among the many inflammatory and ill-informed views and his butchering of the truth add misrepresentation of facts about the reality of world power and politics. To start, his idea that international institutions like the UN, EU, and NATO and other organizations are hurting U.S. power when in reality they are supporting American goals and security around the world. The other lie is that he can simply win their compliance by walking away from the table like he does for a real-estate deal.
His warning about “the false song of globalism” and cutting off trade with others if they don’t play he game has isolationist tendencies in a world of inalterable connectivness, while his aggressive militarism of building ever more war weapons, and threats, along side his stated desire to make friends allies and enemies friends, appears contradictory and a bit incomprehensible.
Trump clearly is truly a dangerous man in every sense of that word. This speech can only add to the world’s fears of the future rationality of their best key ally, diminish their hope for a better world led by America. His approach would only add to the horrors we already face around the world.
Trump’s opposition to the Iran agreement which constrains Iran from having a nuclear weapon for over a decade or more, shows a total lack of understanding of the importance of cutting off nuclear weapons in this conflict ridden region and the agreement contributes to more security and stability for that region.
It must please Putin, who earlier called Trump “a brighter person, talented without a doubt.” Trump oddly, given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and bombing of Syrian civilians and hospitals, returned the compliment saying: “I like him because he called me a genius. He said Trump is the real leader.” His espousal of affinity for Putin, a most authoritarian leader and butcher of his opponents, has to be seen with much consternation by Americans and those abroad.
However, Putin who seems to favor Trump, but it is not for the reasons that help America. Rather it is because he sees such a man destroying America’s global influence without him lifting a finger.
Reaction to Trump’s speech has Russian pro-Putin politicians delighted and hopeful to “do business” with Trump – and now less likely to worry about American sanctions with a possible Trump presidency, and perhaps even feeling he can act with impunity in the Middle East that Trump has largely dismissed. It will embolden Putin also in Ukraine thinking he can roll over that nation with impunity under Trump. Putin must be delighted with Trump already weakening ties with Europe over trade and dismissing our allies for not supporting more defense spending and implying mindlessly a U.S. pull out if our demands are not met.
Trump, in short, with his foreign policy leaves the American people and our friends abroad scared and dismayed and our foes delighted.
See our section on presidential candidates quotes on security and foreign policy issues via pressing its title in the top section of our blog.
PART I : 2016 PROSPECTS FOR THE YEAR IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL SECURITY OR AROUND PART OF THE GLOBE IN HALF AN HOUR!
Harry C. Blaney III
This post will take a quick look at some of the most important global challenges and issues Americans and the rest of humanity will face in this year. This will be a brief look at possible developments in key areas, what risks and dangers lie with the topic and what policies or actions might affect outcomes good or bad. Also indicate what America could, should, or should not do to address the dangers and problems inherent in each issue. In short a quick tour of the most difficult questions our present and likely our next president will likely face.
THE MIDDLE EAST, THE SUNNI-SHIA DIVIDE, AND TERRORISM
There is no region more in disarray and conflict ridden than the Middle East and related regions. Nor is there a more difficult set of forces and issues which makes this region a complex quagmire and yet also more in need of conciliation, diplomacy and outside, yes outside help!
While in the end the Shia and Sunni nations must see that their conflict will destroy them both and make some kind of “pact,” or 2016 could see an escalation of internecine warfare. Here diplomacy from both inside the Islamic community and likely outside. Given the larger consequences we will see in the person of Secretary John Kerry and key Europeans an adding of efforts and pressure for some kind of truce. (See comments on Russia’s role below.)
Sadly the year 2016 started out with a worsening of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia over a stupid if not malicious act of killing a Shia Saudi cleric which seems almost designed to escalate the conflict. It will certainly make putting together a necessary joint Shia-Sunni Iraqi regional governance model harder if not impossible.
Yet it must be halted. The seat of most terrorism lies in this region and least we forget it impacts disastrously, more than anyone Muslims of all sects. We are trying to maintain a close dialogue with the key Shia government of Iran which is difficult at any time and with Saudi Arabia that wants unquestioned US support for its anti-Shia strategy. The latter position would be a disaster for America and our allies, in the end we need to be an “honest broker” and “peacemaker” not an outside protagonist.
ISIS or the so-called Islamic State is now at the heart of violence in the Middle East. But there are also many groups and indeed governments who have given support to these brutal killing machines which we see in North Africa, Africa proper, and in Europe and America in individual attacks. 2016 is likely to see more of these and also more reaction by states to curb these terrorists.
Under Obama’s cautious but directed and increasingly mixed-tools strategy, which curbs the deployment of large combat ground troops, and focus, as it should, on the Muslim states concerned taking the lead in routing out ISIS, seem to, at last, to make some progress. ISIS has lost some 30-40% of its population and/or territory in Syria and Iraq.
We are likely to see “more of the same” but now modified to see what works best and least costly in terms of blood and resources and the key problem of “blowback” and “unintended consequences.” It was and is a wise policy which pleases nobody but is an fine example of “smart power” at work. No guarantee of working but the best option of all the other most bad ones. We are likely to see a tough debate in 2016 over a more militaristic approach verses a more cautious but evolving and multi-tools strategy using cooperation with others as a key component. This conundrum will not be solved in 2016 but the activities and attacks of 2016 will influence future outcomes.
There are a number of Middle East countries which are in a critical state including Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, many African nations and others which need not just American attention but also from other key countries including Europe and Asian nations. In each case 2016 will require added major resources and attention via hard diplomacy and addressing some of the fundamental causes if each is not addressed the result will be the spread of conflict and terrorism.
ISRAELI- PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
An example of a conflict that is getting worse not better largely due to the continued effort of Prime Minister Bebe Nethanhuh to make sure there will not be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I can’t be less blunt about this. He has expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which are all Palestinian lands. He has said outrageous words about Palestinians citizens in Israel and has said there will be no two state solution while he is in power. He has insulted and tried to undermined President Obama in as many ways as possible within the already fractured difficult American politics while getting un-presidented major military assistance from the same President to help Israel’s security. His recent visit to Washington to “make up” made little progress towards a peace deal.
While the PLO has not been always helpful in the negotiations and remains weak and divided, and angery it was the continued settlements which forced them into desperate acts which is likely to bring the same sad scenario in 2016 unless there is considerable outside pressure to demand a need to solve this situation, which if not resolved is likely to inflame the entire region and threaten peace and produce a catastrophe for Israel itself. There are those who think America should give up on the Middle East. But the question is in 2016 can the West and other Middle East powers see the consequences of this path to mutual destruction and make an offer that can’t be turned down? Most experts are pessimistic, indeed opposed to any further efforts. They are wrong.
RUSSIA: A DISASTER IN WAITING
If it is true that President Putin’s game is enhancing his and Russia’s strategic and geopolitical standing and he wants to be seen as a major international power, he will be seriously disappointed. If his game is to make “mock war” with the West, this path and this goal lies in failure and possibly mutual calamity. The keyis for the West to hold its unity and focus. Russia it is to be a responsible state looking to help peacemaking and constructively dealing with the many global challenges we face, Putin can win that game for Russia’s long term interests.
His problem is really not just the low price of gas and oil, nor his military adventures, it is the tragedy that his policies have made of Russia. The Ukraine/Crimea gambit will prove to be costly on many dimensions and, if seen as it should, to be a cause of the downturn of the Russian economy and the standard of living of the average citizen (not you can be sure of Putin’s friends among the Oligarchy.
Russia is increasingly, as I have written earlier, a “Potemkin Village” is an empty shell and darkness inside and despair growing. Putin is riding high in the opinion polls but much is also due to his harsh repression of any dissent as seen in his “contract killings” at home and abroad. The predictions are for recession, decline of the Ruble, continued low oil and gas prices and not least a continued from the top corrupt society which enfeebles a great nation.
But this realization clearly has not yet happened among many Russians and may not in 2016. The test will be in Ukraine, Syria, and relations with the former countries of the former Soviet Union. A test will also be if he continues to carry out his provocative military flights and ship/sub/troop exercises near or over NATO nations.
Given the recent past history, President Putin is not likely to let up on his dangerous indeed mad aggression and acts of war in Ukraine and Syria unless forced to do so from inside realities or outside pressure. He has backed time and time again brutal regimes and groups. His backing of Assad – a regime that has carried out now for years mass killings of its citizens in Syria. Assad’s is a terrorist regime itself.
In an odd swing this action has put him on the same side as Iran and Hezbollah a terrorist group, an effort to be a likely costly goal of being a “big” player in the muddy Middle East. It is just the same game as his other aggressive gambits with nefarious “allies” in places like Georgia, etc. He may pay a cost and make enemies with the Sunni nations by his actions.
He has from time to time tried to appear to seek common ground but with outcomes that only favor his prejudices and goals. He supports the Iran nuclear deal, and in theory a UN backed peace settlement and process in Syria. In 2016 we will see if this ends in peace and all will depend if he is willing to see in the near future Assad to go. His military chips are put down in the Syrian coast with added arms in 2016, but the forces at work are those he nor we can fully control.
Look for a very hard road here in 2016 unless Putin changes his calculations. Look also for more allied bombing efforts against ISIS and possibly indirectly Assad’s forces if peace talks fail. And some work to deal with the refugee issues seems necessary.
END OF PART I: COMING SECOND PART COVERS EUROPE, ASIA, NUCLEAR WEAPONS, GLOBAL WARMING, AND OTHER ISSUES.
PART II : THE YEAR 2015: A LOOK BACKWARD FOR GLOBAL SECURITY AND PEACE
Harry C. Blaney III
Beyond the specifics of our fractured and conflict ridden world covered in Part I of this two part series, are questions about the contributions or the follies of our national and global leaders and of our institutions and in the end concerned and impacted citizens.
We want to add some thoughts about the import of events in 2015 that are in some ways emblematic of the global landscape we live in and provided either new difficult challenges or show hopeful paths for America and the international community.
THE ISSUE OF GLOBAL LEADERS AND OUR SECURITY: FINDING COOPERATION
2015 was a year where there also was a real effort of some global leaders to find areas of agreement, of conciliation, of paths to peace and reduction of nuclear weapons and dealing with terrorism in intelligent ways. The first part of this series saw some very dark events and some acts by leaders that contributed to hatred, conflict, inequality, and bigotry. While others tried to mitigate these catastrophes. The results were indeed mixed.
This balance between peacemakers and authoritarian and malevolent “disrupters” and war-makers has been through all of human history and 2015 was not exception. Examples are below of this on going struggle.
DISINTEGRATION VERSES INTEGRATION, THE MIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION CRISIS, TERRORISM, AND GLOBAL WARMING
THE EUROPEAN CHALLENGE
The key challenges for Europe are immigration, keeping Britain in the EU fold, getting rid of austerity and getting the economy on a growth pattern. It also was addressing terrorism within and abroad, facing inequality which threatens stability, and the growth of fascists and racist and extreme right-wing governments and parties. And also defining the relationship with America, an aggressive Russia and rising China in a constructive way.
Angela Merkel, who I have criticized for her economic austerity policies towards Greece and other weak EU states, came through initially in 2015 as a moral leader in support of refugees feeling death and conflict which seems to have cost her support at home. Her fate in 2016 will hinge not only on gaining some consensus within Germany for helping and accepting the refugees but for leading the EU towards a broader and more effective set of policies and actions which will make for a peaceful settlement and fair sharing of the burden. Immigration in 2015 was truly a challenge almost un-precedented and was largely an event that divided Europe and its reactions engendered more disunity and irresponsible acts and policies.
2015 was a year Britain went down the dangerous path towards possible separation of Scotland which thankfully failed – not thanks to Prime Minister Cameron. Cameron made the decision to hold a referendum to leave the EU and a vote is set for 2016. Merkel will also be key in helping keep the UK in the EU when the forces in Britain of the small minded Tory Euro-skeptics and the British equivalent of our Republican Tea Party bigots want to separate from the EU. Further there was and continues a dangerous move and sentiment within Europe against not only immigration but also the EU and the “FORE Project” which is the keystone for peace and stability and yes democracy in the region. The leaders of Europe did not in 2015 face fully up to these challenges.
FRANCE TO THE FORE?
What was seen as a weak French socialist president Hollande, turned out to be seen by many as strong in dealing with terrorism in Africa, and recently in his stance during the Paris attacks in November and the lead host of the Paris Climate change meeting. France in some ways has come to replace the British as a more reliable partner on a number of key issues. Their decision to contribute planes and resources to the allied bombing efforts in Syria and Iraq was an unexpected act. They were more involved in dealing with Russia on Ukraine, in the Iran nuclear deal, and took on anti-terrorism responsibilities in Africa.
THE BRITISH RETREAT?
Prime Minister David Cameron, on the other hand, did a lot of talking and little real action. While supporting UK continued membership in the EU he mismanaged in 2014 and 2015 the process of the vote on EU membership that is planned to take place in 2016. Should UK leave the EU the consensus of experts is it would be a disaster for Britain (and for Europe also).
He has failed to quiet the separatist tides in Scotland after the vote to stay united by a totally irresponsible handling of promises that were made for increased Scottish home rule. Not least he has move toward anti-immigration moves to mitigate the influence of such parties as the UK Independent Party with its racist, anti-EU, and isolationist tendencies. Wining the election in 2015 with a clear majority in Parliament but not in the nation was a plus for him, but it led to a doubling down on arch-conservative programs to punish the poor and to enhance the very rich. In the end this can’t but reap harm to Britain in the world.
DEPLORING WORLD’S WOES!
Economic growth overall in the developing nations was disappointing and the growth of conflict in places like Africa and Middle East hurt as did growing debts and political disarray. Leadership in the developing world was in too many cases a disaster for these countries with a few making efforts against an overwhelming tide of despair, corruption, and disparity of wealth and power. On a upward note, Castro in Cuba decided to respond to Obama’s outreach, China’s leaders helped at last on climate change/ environment, and India also finally went along when it was a spoiling nation with the Paris accords. Key in 2015 and will be in 2016, is efforts to start a rapprochement between the near warring nuclear weaponed India and Pakistan. A number of countries had mostly democratic elections including Burma, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Burma. And there were game changing elections in Argentina, Venezuela, and the Central African Republic,
AMERICA’S ROLE IN CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND RECONCILIATION
Notable above all, has been President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry who carried often much of the globe on their shoulders. They got India and China to finally do something constructive on climate change, more than anyone Obama and Kerry got the Iran agreement through in negotiations and in the Congress. Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba was a major breakthrough for both sides. Obama proposed both the Atlantic and Pacific trade packs which still remain controversial, but envisions a more united world economically and has strategic significance. 2016 will see how these two initiatives progress.
A key wise outcome was the administration kepting its promise not to do “stupid things” and kept their caution and steely focus on what could be done effectively and at least cost. It has shown some results. They saw their judgement and policies make some progress in 2015 and into 2016 with notable victories, with little American blood lost, in Iraq with the retaking of Ramadi and other towns. They revised our strategy in Syria with progress by American supported Kurd forces taking key points and pushing the Islamic State back from important towns and sites but some mixed results. But with a little advancement by the Syrian opposition forces. The Syrian quagmire became even more difficult after Putin’s 2015 intervention and Russian bombing of opposition forces.
But the simply fact is that U.S. and allied precise bombing and intelligence has been critical for success, despite being downplayed by the neo-cons and their hawkish Republican followers, who seem blindly want more vulnerable troops on the ground as proof of their on-the-cheep “toughness.” In fact we saw that added allied bombing was taking place.
The key still remains our diplomatic efforts. The UN Security Council with American and allied nations, and even Russia agreement, voted on a path towards possible peace and a new Syrian governance structure. This effort is filled with uncertainties, but promises more hope than would getting mass American combat troops sent to be killed by the Islamic State terrorist on their home turf. I see this as a use of “smart power” while the GOP still seems, as they did in Iraq under Bush II earlier, decide to use “stupid power” and play the terrorist’s game.
AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND THE GLOBAL ORDER
The debates in 2015, especially those of the Republican candidates revealed how dangerous our atrocious politics have become for the security if the rest of the world. 2015 showed how unbalanced our nation could become and how one major party has so gone off the deep end that even the fair right creator of this condition in Republican politics, Charles Koch in a Financial Times interview said that he was “disappointed” by the current crop of Republican presidential candidates and resigned to having to support one with whom he agrees on only some issues. He thinks his issues are not being addressed. He is unhappy with the positions of Trump and Cruz on dealing with Muslims! And perhaps more? There is more irony in this as he has probably been more responsible for the GOP crazies we have today than any other person on this earth! Yet he would support any crazy according to his statement rather than any Democrat.
The other trend in our nation in 2015 and before has been the universal effort by the Republican candidates to beat up on Obama and especially to call him “weak” mostly focusing on his caution about using massive ground forces in Syria and Iraq. Trump started this idea of “No energy” not only against Obama and also his GOP opponents, but it has become a chorus by all the rest of what can be fairly described as the worst group of would-be presidents in American history. Each has done all they could either in their official capacity or on the campaign trail to undermined American power and interests around the world by their irresponsible statements, policies, or votes. They have been indifferent on how they are viewed by other nations. Just their presence in 2015 and the possibility that any one of them might be president sends shudders down most allied leaders and many of their educated citizens.
This is a world of interdependence, globalized as some would have it, and this is the high level information world where people everywhere hear what is said by global leaders and would be leaders via TV and the internet.
So goodby 2015, and we will look at the prospects for 2016 soon.
As New Year starts it is worthwhile to look back since the past is prologue for what is to come. It is an annual exercise that many columnists, pundits, strategists, and yes bloggers do as it sets a framework for what is to come and to look back at the whole of a year and wonder what it all means for the security and peace of our clearly very fractured and conflict ridden globe. I promise a look forward at our strategic landscape which will include some policy ideas, in time, follow after the second part of this topic is posted..
First, a global view and then a look at some of the specific component elements that are each critical for the international system to gain some semblance of sanity.
INEQUALITY AND GLOBAL SECURITY
The fundamental factors that a the driving forces on a global scale include the growing gap in resources between the very very rich and the rest of humanity most of which is just hanging on or worse. This divide is a key reason that we see so much conflict, instability, terrorism. and democracy being threaten around the world.
We see some progress as in some countries people rose above the poverty line but in others the divide just got worse. Here the failure was both due to indifferent nation’s governments and the still lingering consequences of the ubiquitous “austerity” polices of too many rich and poor governments. Add the lack of political will, due to growth of right-wing and authoritarian governments and in 2015 nations becoming more that are the decision making power in these countries. Then add to the mix international organizations with members both developed and developing too weak to face the major challenges of our age and providing inadequate, even very poor, resources to the key international institutions that were designed to deal with global economic, security, social, and health major crises and catastrophes.
ENVIRONMENTAL INSECURITY AND GLOBAL DISASTER
Another global challenge is that of climate change. Every country and region in the world is threaten by this human created environmental phenomena and it has already shown its destructive power and the loss of many hundreds of thousands of lives across the globe. No single event can be ascribed directly to this cause, but taken together there is little doubt of the reality of the impact of rising global temperatures.
Again, up to now we have not done enough to effectively put this existential danger to our entire ecosystem on a sustainable path. The best event, as we have noted here, is the outcome of the 2015 Paris climate change conference. That conference at least shows us a path forward and specified the necessary action that states and all of us need to take to make real progress. But many scientists think we need to do more and they may be quite right. We have now a process and promises and an official “score card” for keeping tract of progress or lack thereof. That was a positive note for 2015.
REAL COMBUSTIBLES: NUCLEAR WEAPONS, SECTARIAN/RELIGIOUS CONFLICTS, AND JUST PLAIN AGGRESSION AND NEEDLESS WARS, AND NOT LEAST HATREDS AND STUPIDITIES OF POWERFUL LEADERS AND COMPLIANT AND BLINDLY ANGRY CITIZENS.
That about sums it up as to why we are in such a tragic mess we seem to have and why the global trajectory seems so dark. But there are some rays of light………hate to end a year and start a new one with just gloom and doom.
On nuclear weapons and their spread, the really good news was the 2015 agreement with Iran by the key global powers that limits their capacity of producing nuclear weapons. As of this date Iran seems to be carrying out its obligations under the agreement with especially the shipment of almost all of its enrich uranium some 25,000 pounds, to Russia (which is a major milestone that leaves the Islamic Republic without enough low-enriched uranium to manufacture a nuke). There is the ongoing dismantling of its research reactor and most of its centrifuges. If the terms of the agreement are kept the world can be a bit safer since the alternative was the capacity to build a bomb in months not a year, and the agreement going for 10 years plus for key elements with the safeguard/inspections of the IAEA unlimited.
The other great danger that existed before 2015 and is still with us are the nuclear weapons in the hands of India and Pakistan, the nuclear weapons of North Korea and not least the nuclear weapons in the hands of a type like Putin who seems to think they are his leverage and plaything for enhancing his ego.
The India/Pakistan threat has two dimensions, one is the on going conflict between the two countries over Kashmir. Recently there was a meeting between the two national leaders and perhaps some moves towards sanity.
But Pakistan is itself a problem due to the government’s instability, the danger of internal terrorists, and an army that seems at times to not be capable and responsible. North Korea remains a conundrum with few good solutions with clearly erratic leadership that seems to not be seriously seeking a mutually agreeable long-term solution but likes to rattle the world with nuclear activities. A possible consequence is that South Korea or Japan might one day see it necessary to obtain their own weapons.
The other component of the dangers to the security of our world’s population in 2015 and beyond is growing sectarian conflicts, growing efforts to divide societies, and malevolent leaders and groups that see aggression and violence as a favored means to gain power and destroy what they see as their “enemies.” This is not the place now to get into the many causes and antecedents of these dangerous forces, but to simply say that peace in our world will not be obtained until these dark forces are tamed, reformed, and or defeated. This is undoubtedly a long term effort. But better and more responsible national leaders and a more engaged and informed and less bigoted, fearful, and empowered citizenry is the best antidote for societal disintegration and conflict.
A LOOK AT SOME SPECIFIC ELEMENTS OF 2015 OUTCOMES AND TRENDS
THE SECTARIAN DIVIDE ABROAD AND NATIONALLY AND AT OUR OWN HOME
The good news is that some progress was made in recognizing this reality. This is clearly the case in 2015 with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who have been working hard to get both the Shia and Sunni groups and nations to see a common interest against ISIS, with some but still fragile, success. Prejudices of centuries are hard to mend. The key test points are in Iraq and Syria, both of which are case studies in sectarian hate, past distrust, outside partisan powers, and levels of murky loyalties and unknowns to make even the wisest expert shudder.
The challenges in the Middle East are almost impossible. If you add the animosities and stupidities of national leaders comforting each other in the Israeli and Palestinian arena one may wonder if there will ever be a solution. But there is an equitable solution facing each leader, all know what it is, which is the best outcome possible and one which will at last bring both parties to some real accommodation and security. Frankly, the behavior in 2015 of Prime Minister Netanyahu this last year and beyond has deliberately poisoned relations not only with the Palestinians but with large segments of Europe and the United States. If 2016 could turn this nasty tide I say try, but one man seems to want to make Israel even more at existential national risk long-term and is churning up hate rather than tolerance and compromise.
In our own American backyard in 2015 American politics turned even more divisive and partisan, in my view, which some will disagree with. But the partisan battles have greatly weakened America abroad and the blame rest squarely on the conservative Republicans and their reckless statements and actions. On most foreign policy and national security issues, let alone the many national issues, we see the damage caused by the far right crazies to American democracy, economic and technological progress, and to gaining needed security and peace. Their threatening the closing of government, their efforts to make America default on its debt, their denial of climate change, their efforts to stop the Iran deal that prevents Iran from building early nuclear weapons, their inability to look at reality rather than ideology, and not least seeking narrow political gain rather than the national interest. These have made our allies abroad question our leadership in the future after Obama’s administration, and help our adversaries like Russia and China who seek to exploit our weakness and lack of unity.
At this year’s United Nations General Assembly 70th anniversary, President Obama spoke at the Opening Session, filling the room with talk of diplomacy, democracy, and human rights. He did not shy away from addressing controversial topics that involved Russia, China, Iran, and Syria and reminded the world that cooperation over conflict must be recognized, especially in the United States, as a strength rather than a weakness. He was there to elaborate on what the U.N. really stands for by highlighting it in contrast with arguments found today in foreign policy, such as “might makes right,” “that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones,” and “that rights of individuals don’t matter.” President Obama made it very clear in never hesitating to protect our country with top military force, but also stressed the fact that we live in a much more integrated world; we all have a stake in each other’s success, and if the nations there cannot work together more effectively, then all will suffer the consequences. That when tens of thousands of people are slaughtered in one country where an “apocalyptic cult like ISIL” or a torturous dictator like Assad exist, it is no longer a single nation’s security problem, but rather an assault on humanity.
With the chaos and conflict happening in or affecting multiple regions of the world, President Obama took the time to not only call out other world leaders, but also acknowledge and reflect on past mistakes made by the United States and the administration. This in an effort to illustrate what steps are necessary to move forward and ensure such harmful mistakes do not take place again. He spoke of specifics such as the hard lessons learned in Iraq, as one nation cannot impose stability on another, or the fact that the coalition in Libya that took down a tyrant should have done much more to fill the vacuum that left Libya in a civil war with no official government established.
Although President Obama took the time to recognize the work done with partners, including Russia and China, in creating a comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he did not go without promoting key international law such as Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity that had been violated by Russia. Essentially, President Obama rose to the occasion of speaking out against atrocities, as controversial as they may be, and while never undermining the difficulty of what is required of any call to action, painted a picture of what should and could be done. Such a picture includes working with any nation in resolving the deadly conflict in Syria, and joining with more than 50 countries in a U.N. peacekeeping effort to ensure peace agreements are carried out and civilians are protected from mass killings.
As President Obama ended his speech looking into the future, one must remember that the key elements he spoke of must, by far, surpass his term. The basic ideals of diplomacy, democracy, and human rights are not, and should not, be recognized and associated with only one specific party or specific country, but by all nations, as it is not simply a matter of what is right, but also what is best for the prosperity of any country and region.
Below please see the entire text of President Obama’s speech at the Opening Session of the 70th United Nations General Assembly, or Watch it online!
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, it is worth reflecting on what, together, the members of this body have helped to achieve.
Out of the ashes of the Second World War, having witnessed the unthinkable power of the atomic age, the United States has worked with many nations in this Assembly to prevent a third world war — by forging alliances with old adversaries; by supporting the steady emergence of strong democracies accountable to their people instead of any foreign power; and by building an international system that imposes a cost on those who choose conflict over cooperation, an order that recognizes the dignity and equal worth of all people.
That is the work of seven decades. That is the ideal that this body, at its best, has pursued. Of course, there have been too many times when, collectively, we have fallen short of these ideals. Over seven decades, terrible conflicts have claimed untold victims. But we have pressed forward, slowly, steadily, to make a system of international rules and norms that are better and stronger and more consistent.
It is this international order that has underwritten unparalleled advances in human liberty and prosperity. It is this collective endeavor that’s brought about diplomatic cooperation between the world’s major powers, and buttressed a global economy that has lifted more than a billion people from poverty. It is these international principles that helped constrain bigger countries from imposing our will on smaller ones, and advanced the emergence of democracy and development and individual liberty on every continent.
This progress is real. It can be documented in lives saved, and agreements forged, and diseases conquered, and in mouths fed. And yet, we come together today knowing that the march of human progress never travels in a straight line, that our work is far from complete; that dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.
Today, we see the collapse of strongmen and fragile states breeding conflict, and driving innocent men, women and children across borders on an *epoch epic scale. Brutal networks of terror have stepped into the vacuum. Technologies that empower individuals are now also exploited by those who spread disinformation, or suppress dissent, or radicalize our youth. Global capital flows have powered growth and investment, but also increased risk of contagion, weakened the bargaining power of workers, and accelerated inequality.
How should we respond to these trends? There are those who argue that the ideals enshrined in the U.N. charter are unachievable or out of date — a legacy of a postwar era not suited to our own. Effectively, they argue for a return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that pre-date this institution: the belief that power is a zero-sum game; that might makes right; that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don’t matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force.
On this basis, we see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law. We see an erosion of the democratic principles and human rights that are fundamental to this institution’s mission; information is strictly controlled, the space for civil society restricted. We’re told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder; that it’s the only way to stamp out terrorism, or prevent foreign meddling. In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse.
The increasing skepticism of our international order can also be found in the most advanced democracies. We see greater polarization, more frequent gridlock; movements on the far right, and sometimes the left, that insist on stopping the trade that binds our fates to other nations, calling for the building of walls to keep out immigrants. Most ominously, we see the fears of ordinary people being exploited through appeals to sectarianism, or tribalism, or racism, or anti-Semitism; appeals to a glorious past before the body politic was infected by those who look different, or worship God differently; a politics of us versus them.
The United States is not immune from this. Even as our economy is growing and our troops have largely returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, we see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace. We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force; that cooperation and diplomacy will not work.
As President of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face; they cross my desk every morning. I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.
But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion. We cannot look backwards. We live in an integrated world — one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success. We cannot turn those forces of integration. No nation in this Assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet. The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology. And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences. That is true for the United States, as well.
No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone. In Iraq, the United States learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land. Unless we work with other nations under the mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts, we will not succeed. And unless we work together to defeat the ideas that drive different communities in a country like Iraq into conflict, any order that our militaries can impose will be temporary.
Just as force alone cannot impose order internationally, I believe in my core that repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed. The history of the last two decades proves that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow. You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas. You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth. It is not a conspiracy of U.S.-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media, and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed.
Indeed, I believe that in today’s world, the measure of strength is no longer defined by the control of territory. Lasting prosperity does not come solely from the ability to access and extract raw materials. The strength of nations depends on the success of their people — their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity — and that, in turn, depends upon individual rights and good governance and personal security. Internal repression and foreign aggression are both symptoms of the failure to provide this foundation.
A politics and solidarity that depend on demonizing others, that draws on religious sectarianism or narrow tribalism or jingoism may at times look like strength in the moment, but over time its weakness will be exposed. And history tells us that the dark forces unleashed by this type of politics surely makes all of us less secure. Our world has been there before. We gain nothing from going back.
Instead, I believe that we must go forward in pursuit of our ideals, not abandon them at this critical time. We must give expression to our best hopes, not our deepest fears. This institution was founded because men and women who came before us had the foresight to know that our nations are more secure when we uphold basic laws and basic norms, and pursue a path of cooperation over conflict. And strong nations, above all, have a responsibility to uphold this international order.
Let me give you a concrete example. After I took office, I made clear that one of the principal achievements of this body — the nuclear non-proliferation regime — was endangered by Iran’s violation of the NPT. On that basis, the Security Council tightened sanctions on the Iranian government, and many nations joined us to enforce them. Together, we showed that laws and agreements mean something.
But we also understood that the goal of sanctions was not simply to punish Iran. Our objective was to test whether Iran could change course, accept constraints, and allow the world to verify that its nuclear program will be peaceful. For two years, the United States and our partners — including Russia, including China — stuck together in complex negotiations. The result is a lasting, comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while allowing it to access peaceful energy. And if this deal is fully implemented, the prohibition on nuclear weapons is strengthened, a potential war is averted, our world is safer. That is the strength of the international system when it works the way it should.
That same fidelity to international order guides our responses to other challenges around the world. Consider Russia’s annexation of Crimea and further aggression in eastern Ukraine. America has few economic interests in Ukraine. We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine. But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated. If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today. That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia. It’s not a desire to return to a Cold War.
Now, within Russia, state-controlled media may describe these events as an example of a resurgent Russia — a view shared, by the way, by a number of U.S. politicians and commentators who have always been deeply skeptical of Russia, and seem to be convinced a new Cold War is, in fact, upon us. And yet, look at the results. The Ukrainian people are more interested than ever in aligning with Europe instead of Russia. Sanctions have led to capital flight, a contracting economy, a fallen ruble, and the emigration of more educated Russians.
Imagine if, instead, Russia had engaged in true diplomacy, and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected. That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia, and better for the world — which is why we continue to press for this crisis to be resolved in a way that allows a sovereign and democratic Ukraine to determine its future and control its territory. Not because we want to isolate Russia — we don’t — but because we want a strong Russia that’s invested in working with us to strengthen the international system as a whole.
Similarly, in the South China Sea, the United States makes no claim on territory there. We don’t adjudicate claims. But like every nation gathered here, we have an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force. So we will defend these principles, while encouraging China and other claimants to resolve their differences peacefully.
I say this, recognizing that diplomacy is hard; that the outcomes are sometimes unsatisfying; that it’s rarely politically popular. But I believe that leaders of large nations, in particular, have an obligation to take these risks — precisely because we are strong enough to protect our interests if, and when, diplomacy fails.
I also believe that to move forward in this new era, we have to be strong enough to acknowledge when what you’re doing is not working. For 50 years, the United States pursued a Cuba policy that failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people. We changed that. We continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to stand up for human rights. But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties. As these contacts yield progress, I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore. (Applause.) Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness, not coercion, will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve, just as I believe that Cuba will find its success if it pursues cooperation with other nations.
Now, if it’s in the interest of major powers to uphold international standards, it is even more true for the rest of the community of nations. Look around the world. From Singapore to Colombia to Senegal, the facts shows that nations succeed when they pursue an inclusive peace and prosperity within their borders, and work cooperatively with countries beyond their borders.
That path is now available to a nation like Iran, which, as of this moment, continues to deploy violent proxies to advance its interests. These efforts may appear to give Iran leverage in disputes with neighbors, but they fuel sectarian conflict that endangers the entire region, and isolates Iran from the promise of trade and commerce. The Iranian people have a proud history, and are filled with extraordinary potential. But chanting “Death to America” does not create jobs, or make Iran more secure. If Iran chose a different path, that would be good for the security of the region, good for the Iranian people, and good for the world.
Of course, around the globe, we will continue to be confronted with nations who reject these lessons of history, places where civil strife, border disputes, and sectarian wars bring about terrorist enclaves and humanitarian disasters. Where order has completely broken down, we must act, but we will be stronger when we act together.
In such efforts, the United States will always do our part. We will do so mindful of the lessons of the past — not just the lessons of Iraq, but also the example of Libya, where we joined an international coalition under a U.N. mandate to prevent a slaughter. Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind. We’re grateful to the United Nations for its efforts to forge a unity government. We will help any legitimate Libyan government as it works to bring the country together. But we also have to recognize that we must work more effectively in the future, as an international community, to build capacity for states that are in distress, before they collapse.
And that’s why we should celebrate the fact that later today the United States will join with more than 50 countries to enlist new capabilities — infantry, intelligence, helicopters, hospitals, and tens of thousands of troops — to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping. (Applause.) These new capabilities can prevent mass killing, and ensure that peace agreements are more than words on paper. But we have to do it together. Together, we must strengthen our collective capacity to establish security where order has broken down, and to support those who seek a just and lasting peace.
Nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria. When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs — it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all. Likewise, when a terrorist group beheads captives, slaughters the innocent and enslaves women, that’s not a single nation’s national security problem — that is an assault on all humanity.
I’ve said before and I will repeat: There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them. We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes. And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists.
But while military power is necessary, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria. Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully. The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.
Let’s remember how this started. Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife. And so Assad and his allies cannot simply pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing. Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and ultimately stamp out ISIL. But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild.
We know that ISIL — which emerged out of the chaos of Iraq and Syria — depends on perpetual war to survive. But we also know that they gain adherents because of a poisonous ideology. So part of our job, together, is to work to reject such extremism that infects too many of our young people. Part of that effort must be a continued rejection by Muslims of those who distort Islam to preach intolerance and promote violence, and it must also a rejection by non-Muslims of the ignorance that equates Islam with terror. (Applause.)
This work will take time. There are no easy answers to Syria. And there are no simple answers to the changes that are taking place in much of the Middle East and North Africa. But so many families need help right now; they don’t have time. And that’s why the United States is increasing the number of refugees who we welcome within our borders. That’s why we will continue to be the largest donor of assistance to support those refugees. And today we are launching new efforts to ensure that our people and our businesses, our universities and our NGOs can help as well — because in the faces of suffering families, our nation of immigrants sees ourselves.
Of course, in the old ways of thinking, the plight of the powerless, the plight of refugees, the plight of the marginalized did not matter. They were on the periphery of the world’s concerns. Today, our concern for them is driven not just by conscience, but should also be drive by self-interest. For helping people who have been pushed to the margins of our world is not mere charity, it is a matter of collective security. And the purpose of this institution is not merely to avoid conflict, it is to galvanize the collective action that makes life better on this planet.
The commitments we’ve made to the Sustainable Development Goals speak to this truth. I believe that capitalism has been the greatest creator of wealth and opportunity that the world has ever known. But from big cities to rural villages around the world, we also know that prosperity is still cruelly out of reach for too many. As His Holiness Pope Francis reminds us, we are stronger when we value the least among these, and see them as equal in dignity to ourselves and our sons and our daughters.
We can roll back preventable disease and end the scourge of HIV/AIDS. We can stamp out pandemics that recognize no borders. That work may not be on television right now, but as we demonstrated in reversing the spread of Ebola, it can save more lives than anything else we can do.
Together, we can eradicate extreme poverty and erase barriers to opportunity. But this requires a sustained commitment to our people — so farmers can feed more people; so entrepreneurs can start a business without paying a bribe; so young people have the skills they need to succeed in this modern, knowledge-based economy.
We can promote growth through trade that meets a higher standard. And that’s what we’re doing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade agreement that encompasses nearly 40 percent of the global economy; an agreement that will open markets, while protecting the rights of workers and protecting the environment that enables development to be sustained.
We can roll back the pollution that we put in our skies, and help economies lift people out of poverty without condemning our children to the ravages of an ever-warming climate. The same ingenuity that produced the Industrial Age and the Computer Age allows us to harness the potential of clean energy. No country can escape the ravages of climate change. And there is no stronger sign of leadership than putting future generations first. The United States will work with every nation that is willing to do its part so that we can come together in Paris to decisively confront this challenge.
And finally, our vision for the future of this Assembly, my belief in moving forward rather than backwards, requires us to defend the democratic principles that allow societies to succeed. Let me start from a simple premise: Catastrophes, like what we are seeing in Syria, do not take place in countries where there is genuine democracy and respect for the universal values this institution is supposed to defend. (Applause.)
I recognize that democracy is going to take different forms in different parts of the world. The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences. But some universal truths are self-evident. No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship. No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school. The freedom to peacefully petition those in power without fear of arbitrary laws — these are not ideas of one country or one culture. They are fundamental to human progress. They are a cornerstone of this institution.
I realize that in many parts of the world there is a different view — a belief that strong leadership must tolerate no dissent. I hear it not only from America’s adversaries, but privately at least I also hear it from some of our friends. I disagree. I believe a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear. (Applause.) History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble, but strong institutions built on the consent of the governed endure long after any one individual is gone.
That’s why our strongest leaders — from George Washington to Nelson Mandela — have elevated the importance of building strong, democratic institutions over a thirst for perpetual power. Leaders who amend constitutions to stay in office only acknowledge that they failed to build a successful country for their people — because none of us last forever. It tells us that power is something they cling to for its own sake, rather than for the betterment of those they purport to serve.
I understand democracy is frustrating. Democracy in the United States is certainly imperfect. At times, it can even be dysfunctional. But democracy — the constant struggle to extend rights to more of our people, to give more people a voice — is what allowed us to become the most powerful nation in the world. (Applause.)
It’s not simply a matter of principle; it’s not an abstraction. Democracy — inclusive democracy — makes countries stronger. When opposition parties can seek power peacefully through the ballot, a country draws upon new ideas. When a free media can inform the public, corruption and abuse are exposed and can be rooted out. When civil society thrives, communities can solve problems that governments cannot necessarily solve alone. When immigrants are welcomed, countries are more productive and more vibrant. When girls can go to school, and get a job, and pursue unlimited opportunity, that’s when a country realizes its full potential. (Applause.)
That is what I believe is America’s greatest strength. Not everybody in America agrees with me. That’s part of democracy. I believe that the fact that you can walk the streets of this city right now and pass churches and synagogues and temples and mosques, where people worship freely; the fact that our nation of immigrants mirrors the diversity of the world — you can find everybody from everywhere here in New York City — (applause) — the fact that, in this country, everybody can contribute, everybody can participate no matter who they are, or what they look like, or who they love — that’s what makes us strong.
And I believe that what is true for America is true for virtually all mature democracies. And that is no accident. We can be proud of our nations without defining ourselves in opposition to some other group. We can be patriotic without demonizing someone else. We can cherish our own identities — our religion, our ethnicity, our traditions — without putting others down. Our systems are premised on the notion that absolute power will corrupt, but that people — ordinary people — are fundamentally good; that they value family and friendship, faith and the dignity of hard work; and that with appropriate checks and balances, governments can reflect this goodness.
I believe that’s the future we must seek together. To believe in the dignity of every individual, to believe we can bridge our differences, and choose cooperation over conflict — that is not weakness, that is strength. (Applause.) It is a practical necessity in this interconnected world.
And our people understand this. Think of the Liberian doctor who went door-to-door to search for Ebola cases, and to tell families what to do if they show symptoms. Think of the Iranian shopkeeper who said, after the nuclear deal, “God willing, now we’ll be able to offer many more goods at better prices.” Think of the Americans who lowered the flag over our embassy in Havana in 1961 — the year I was born — and returned this summer to raise that flag back up. (Applause.) One of these men said of the Cuban people, “We could do things for them, and they could do things for us. We loved them.” For 50 years, we ignored that fact.
Think of the families leaving everything they’ve known behind, risking barren deserts and stormy waters just to find shelter; just to save their children. One Syrian refugee who was greeted in Hamburg with warm greetings and shelter, said, “We feel there are still some people who love other people.”
The people of our United Nations are not as different as they are told. They can be made to fear; they can be taught to hate — but they can also respond to hope. History is littered with the failure of false prophets and fallen empires who believed that might always makes right, and that will continue to be the case. You can count on that. But we are called upon to offer a different type of leadership — leadership strong enough to recognize that nations share common interests and people share a common humanity, and, yes, there are certain ideas and principles that are universal.
That’s what those who shaped the United Nations 70 years ago understood. Let us carry forward that faith into the future — for it is the only way we can assure that future will be brighter for my children, and for yours.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
President Barack Obama, Opening Session of the 70th United Nations General Assembly, September 28, 2015