‘Your Move’: Obama to World after Engagement Push

WASHINGTON ~ President Barack Obama sent a clear message to the world at the UN: he is looking for payback for his swift action in ending an era of swaggering US unilateralism.

Obama’s debut speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday marked a pivot point in the new administration’s foreign policy and a search for dividends from a new style of muscular engagement through multilateral fora.

As leaders of US allies and foes looked on, measuring the capacity of the new US president to implement a sweeping foreign policy agenda, Obama argued the rest of the world must live up to its side of the bargain.

And, as in his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in June, and on other early trips abroad, Obama – repeatedly using the pronoun “I” – traded on his global popularity and talked directly to foreign audiences.

“Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world, cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone,” Obama said in the United Nations chamber in New York.

“We have sought, in word and deed, a new era of engagement with the world. Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response, to global challenges.”

Obama spoke as several international crises reach a critical point, including the effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, with talks between world powers and Tehran due on October 1.

Despite repairing transatlantic divides, Washington has also failed to win substantial promises of troops from NATO partners for the unpopular war in Afghanistan.

And after nine months in power, and despite the new US approach, Obama so far has few foreign policy achievements to showcase on engaging US enemies and on the Middle East peace process.

While ex-president George W. Bush moderated the unilateralism of his first term towards the end of his presidency, Obama Wednesday used his predecessor’s White House as a benchmark to be measured against.

He challenged leaders to defy their own foreign policy orthodoxies as he had done.

“That is Obama’s style, to not ask others to do something he will not do and lead on himself,” said Linda Jamison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Jamison added however that the “jury is still out” on how effective Obama will be in living up to his promise to engage multilaterally in a world of mounting diplomatic challenges.

It is also clear that other nations, pursuing their own national interests, may not define multilateralism, common goals and benefits as Obama does.

Obama’s remarks drew immediate condemnation from conservatives, many of whom have accused him of embarking on “apology tours” abroad.

John Bolton, who served as Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, told the National Review Online that Obama had delivered a “post-American speech by our first post-American president.”

“It was a speech high on the personality of Barack Obama and high on multilateralism, but very short in advocating American interests,” Bolton said.

“It was all extremely naïve. The president did everything he could to say: ‘Can’t we all just get along?’”

An Obama administration official, however, said that the president believed that reengaging in multilateral fora, or tackling issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was primarily in US interests.

But he also said the president wanted to remind other nations they must play their part.

“For international cooperation to work, nations must live up to their responsibilities,” the official said.

“We are now living up to ours, both in terms of our actions and our commitment to address these challenges through multilateral initiatives like the (nuclear non-proliferation treaty), the UN Security Council, and the G20.

“Other nations must do their part as well.”

Making his case, Obama started his speech with a list of “deeds” he had made to back up his words since coming to office – clearly playing on his own personal popularity abroad.

“I prohibited… the use of torture…. I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed,” Obama said.

“I have outlined a comprehensive agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons…. I appointed an envoy for Middle East peace.”

He then issued a call to action from others: “Make no mistake: this cannot be solely America’s endeavour.”

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