President Barack Obama delivered his annual address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 where he covered important issues the United States is facing at home and abroad. The president emphasized in 40-minute address that “the terrorist group known as ISIL must be degraded and ultimately destroyed.” ISIS is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIL, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as Obama refers to them. Obama highlighted that “We come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.” President Obama is in New York for three days addressing the UN Climate Change Summit, General Assembly, a UN luncheon, Chairing a Security Council meeting, and meeting with world leaders, particularly Muslim countries.
President Obama covered a wide range of issues in his address including the global economy, Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Ebola outbreak crisis in West Africa, the possible immanent nuclear deal with Iran, and the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, even brushing upon the race riots in Ferguson, Missouri this past summer. He called the problems a “pervasive unease in our world — a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces.”
In what was a sharp contrast from his speech a year ago, Obama definitely gave a call for war against ISIS, other al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist organizations, and Boko Haram that operates within Nigeria. This call is especially historic for Obama’s legacy given his past adamancy to get the United States out of foreign wars and military entanglements in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan. Only last year did President Obama declared during his UN General Assembly address that “We’ve also worked to end a decade of war … shifting away from a perpetual war footing. The world is more stable than it was five years ago.”
Obama reiterated his military plan of attack to degrade and destroy ISIS, describing that “In this effort, we do not act alone — nor do we intend to send U.S. troops to occupy foreign lands. Instead, we will support Iraqis and Syrians fighting to reclaim their communities. We will use our military might in a campaign of airstrikes to roll back ISIL. We will train and equip forces fighting against these terrorists on the ground. We will work to cut off their financing, and to stop the flow of fighters into and out of the region.”
President Obama called on the world, “all religions” to fight and reject terrorist extremism, “Today, I ask the world to join in this effort.” The president explained, “As we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail so much progress. And that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.” Obama continued discussing the coalition of over 50 nations including five Arab nations actively working to fight ISIS, “There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”
The president made an unprecedented appeal to the Muslim world and especially their youth to reject extremism; “It is time for the world — especially Muslim communities — to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al Qaeda and ISIL,” and instead they should “focus on the extraordinary potential of their people — especially the youth.” Obama asked that “Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. …The future belongs to those who build — not those who destroy.” The president recounted that; “it is violence within Muslim communities that has become the source of so much human misery.”
President Obama not only called them to reject, but fight terrorism within their countries, saying that “The ideology of ISIL or al Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed and confronted and refuted in the light of day.” The president hopes that “Next year, we should all be prepared to announce the concrete steps that we have taken to counter extremist ideologies.”
President Obama also referred to the resolution he plans to propose at the UN Security Council Meeting he is chairing on Wednesday afternoon. The resolution aims to “increase the obligations on states to try to prevent and deter the flow of foreign fighters.” The president explains its importance as the next step in the fight against ISIS; “Later today, the Security Council will adopt a resolution that underscores the responsibility of states to counter violent extremism.”
Obama concluded his address promising that the United States will remain active in the fight for freedom on the “world stage,” stating; “At this crossroads, I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done. We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come. Join us in this common mission, for today’s children and tomorrow’s.”
President Obama outlined his military plan to “degrade and destroy” the terror organization in his speech to the nation on Wednesday evening, Sept. 10, 2014. Since then he has subsequently clarified his plan would not include American soldiers fighting ISIS on the ground. The president has also dedicated his weekly addresses for the past two weeks; “We Will Degrade and Destroy ISIL”and “The World Is United in the Fight Against ISIL” on his military plan, Congress’ authorization, and a global coalition.
The president authorized targeted airstrikes in Iraq in August, and began airstrikes against 20 ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliated Khorasan Group targets in Syria during the early morning hours on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Obama updated the nation on the new military intervention on Monday morning, Sept. 23 before leaving for New York announcing that five Arab nations are actively participating in the airstrikes, and the U.S. is “proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security.” Continuing Obama expressed “The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone. Above all, the people and governments in the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve.” The president ultimately promised, “once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”
- Remarks by President Barack Obama, Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 24, 2014
- Statement by the President on Airstrikes in Syria, September 23, 2014
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.