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Obama’s UN Speech: Packaging Neoconservative Values in the Language of Peace & Liberation

Photo from the United Nations Information Centres

The speech President Barack Obama delivered at the United Nations General Assembly was a neoconservative foreign policy speech, the kind of speech one might have heard President George W. Bush deliver in the midst of the Iraq War to defend decisions made by those ruling America.

Both Robert Kagan and William Kristol, leading American neoconservatives, argued in 1996, “Without a broad, sustaining foreign policy vision, the American people will be inclined to withdraw from the world and will lose sight of their abiding interest in vigorous world leadership. Without a sense of mission, they will seek deeper and deeper cuts in the defense and foreign affairs budgets and gradually decimate the tools of US hegemony.”

The hegemon or paramount power that neoconservative policy thinkers like Kagan and Kristol consider America to be passed on an opportunity to show “leadership” by striking Syria. Obama was acutely aware that the United States was not in control of the developing response to the crisis in Syria. His speech was an opportunity to reassert American power, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region,” Obama declared. “We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.”

“We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.”

He continued, “We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when it’s necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attack, we will take direct action.”

By direct action, Obama meant the country will not hesitate to use military force. There will be no wavering in decision-making to engage in intervention.

The president added, “Finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.”

“Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime,” he stated.

WMDs. The fight against terrorism. Oil. An express commitment to defend American empire. One of the few criticisms a neoconservative could have is that Obama had not gone further in expressing America’s right to flaunt its moral superiority.

Essentially, Obama articulated a defense of a decision to pursue a war in Syria that America did not fully execute. Only a narcissist with a stung ego would have to explain why a government that did not stay the course would not have been wrong to stay the course.

Obama said, “I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council. But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all.”

He later stated:

…[T]he United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion…

It was possibly one of the most absurd aspects of the speech. The United States currently has military operations in at least 74 countries. According to The Nation‘s Jeremy Scahill, the Obama administration has Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) teams in Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan and the Philippines and sometimes has deployed teams to Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported the US Drug Enforcement Agency in Colombia and Mexico. And no one in government knows or is willing to share the exact number for how many military bases the United States has in the world, but Nick Turse has described in detail how there are at least a thousand US military bases spread out around the world.

He did embrace multilateralism or cooperation among countries and within the UN to resolve conflicts, which would seem to be a departure from the neoconservative doctrine that runs throughout the rest of the speech. However, that embrace was with an eye toward keeping America at the helm.

“As recent debates within the United States over Syria clearly show, the danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or to take on every problem in the region as its own,” Obama preached. “The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war — rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world — may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.”

This is neoconservative doctrine in its purest form. It rests upon the idea that the neoconservative think tank, the Project for a New American Century, pushed: “We need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.”

Because America is the “indispensable nation.”

“I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. But I also believe the world is better for it,” Obama stated. “Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional — in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.”

It seemed like a direct retort to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who challenged American exceptionalism in an op-ed for the New York Times this month and wrote, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

The expressed sentiment was that what stands between peace and the next genocide is America. “Should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda or Srebrenica? If that’s the world that people want to live in, they should say so and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.”

This vision for maintaining US dominance in the world was concluded with an idealistic reflection on the populations of the world, which seek peace, dignity, and opportunity. It also drew from the history of struggle and liberation in the world against forces of repression because that language must be spoken to stay in the geopolitical game.

Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change — to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history. Last month, I stood where 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream, at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for President. Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world. Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring? Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?

While more obvious than prior speeches, Obama has spoken like this before. In his inaugural speech in January, he said, “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation,” while also declaring, “We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.”

During his 2012 re-election campaign, he stated, “America remains the one indispensable nation. And the world needs a strong America. And it is stronger now then when I came into office.”

Now, America has drone bases to make war permanent. It has a massive surveillance apparatus that Obama is more than willing to defend and utilize against any country in the world that threatens its power. Though all countries may seek to spy on one another to decide what to do diplomatically, no country can match the technological capabilities of the United States as it bugs and spies on diplomatic missions of countries to remain supreme.

As Scahill said on “Democracy Now!” this morning when discussing Obama’s UN speech, “It’s a really naked declaration of imperialism.” History will show Obama was “a forceful, fierce defender of empire.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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