Commentary and Newsletters

Anne Bayefsky

President Obama Speaks to the United Nations: Sacrificing Israel and America to Make Friends in the UN Netherworld

Thursday, September 24, 2009

This article, by Robert Costa, originally appeared in National Review Online.

Frequent NRO contributor Anne Bayefsky, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute and executive director of Human Rights Voices, gave us a call from the United Nations to relay her take on President Obama's speech. "The president played to his audience, which was largely an undemocratic one," says Bayefsky. "In that way, he succeeded."

Bayefsky notes that the president received a big round of applause for suggesting that Israel should return to 1967 borders, "without the slightest concern that Israel cannot return to indefensible borders - at least if there is to be any hope of real peace." Obama, she says, also made "a unilateral policy statement about what is supposed to be subject to bilateral negotiations, as if Israel were his vassal state. That made a terrific impression with the folks at the U.N., but it has nothing to do with a global agenda that advances international peace and security."

"President Obama also engaged in another round of moral equivalency," says Bayefsky, "which he made infamous in his Cairo speech. He compared those who live in terror in Israel with those who are still waiting for clean water and a state of their own in 'Palestine,' a statement which ignores history and the facts on the ground. The Palestinian people in Gaza, who elected a government sworn to Israel's destruction, do not have a country of their own because their elected representatives in Gaza have declared their permanent opposition to living side-by-side with any Jewish state. The President's continuing failure to recognize the difference between the victims of terror and the perpetrators bodes ill for any prospect for peace in the Middle East."

Bayefsky adds that one interesting feature of Obama's speech was the number of times that he apologized for America. "He essentially said to the world that 'I'm embarrassed at America's record' and that their hostility toward America prior to his ascendance to the country's highest office was correct."

"He also got a big round of applause when he pledged to stop torturing people," says Bayefsky. "The president set up a straw man - a false statement disputing this country's constant denunciation of torture - to make himself attractive to the outside world. Such words should diminish his credibility as commander-in-chief, a job which demands him to defend our highest principles unapologetically."

"President Obama had the audacity to speak at length about his commitment to standing with the oppressed. While he spoke inside the U.N., hundreds of protesters from Iran were outside refuting his words," says Bayefsky. "President Obama has offered an outstretched hand to the man who is responsible for the terrible fate of Iranian dissidents. Every Iranian demonstrator in New York today said loud and clear that they believe President Obama's policy on Iran to be an outrageous abandonment of democratic values."

President Obama, Bayefsky says, also said that he will no longer tolerate those on the wrong side of history. "It is becoming very plain that the president himself is on the wrong side of history. He stood before a crowd of largely undemocratic leaders and said he was on their side. Instead of leading, the president sounded confused and relativistic, claiming that there is no one form of democracy and that everybody quite reasonably has their own take on what democracy means. Everyone there knew that those words are exactly how the Cubans and Chinese speak in U.N. circles. The president's deliberate ambiguity on the nature of democracy was well-received at the U.N., but it did nothing to enhance America's moral stature and leadership capacity in the world today."

On a final note, Bayefsky says that on Iran, the president said that "if" the country chooses to ignore nuclear standards, then it would have a problem. "If? We already know exactly what Iran has been doing," she says. "Using the word 'if' suggests that President Obama is simply refusing to come to terms with the reality of Iran's nuclear program and that he has an extraordinary blind spot that isn't going away any time soon."

"This speech ought to send shockwaves through the United States and our European allies," concludes Bayefsky. "We have the weakest president in modern times ensconced in Washington, a man who will run away from saying what has to be said, if it doesn't appeal to an audience rife with demagogues."