In his final address to the U.N. General Assembly, United States President Barack Obama spoke of a world defined by increasing prosperity, yet torn by uncertainty and strife; progress on many fronts, but threatened by division and violence -- with the temptation of too many to surrender to the siren songs of religious fundamentalism, sectarianism, or aggressive nationalism.
President Obama described a number of accomplishments that have improved the lives of people around the world over the last eight years: including the global economy’s resilience after the greatest financial disaster in modern times; the establishment of a framework to protect the planet from the ravages of climate change; the removal of terrorist safe havens; the resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomacy; the opening of relations with Cuba; and the appearance of a democratically elected civilian leader in Burma. And, over the last 25 years, he noted, the doubling of the number of the world’s democracies.
At the same time, however, “deep fault lines in the existing international order” have been exposed, said Mr. Obama:
“Around the world refugees flow across border in flight from brutal conflict…Across vast swathes of the Middle East, basic security, basic order has broken down. We see too many governments muzzling journalists and quashing dissent and censoring the flow of information.”
In addition, Mr. Obama noted, terrorist networks endanger open societies, spurring anger against innocent immigrants and Muslims. And powerful nations spurn the restraints put on them by international law.
President Obama said the world faces a choice: to press forward with a better model of cooperation, or retreat into a world “ultimately in conflict along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.”
The key to the first choice is recognizing the need for tolerance that results from respecting all human beings, Mr. Obama said, as well as recognizing the universal desire of all people to have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. “Our identities,” he declared, “do not have to be defined…in opposition to others, but rather by a belief in liberty and equality and justice and fairness.
“My faith in those principles,” President Obama said, “[forces] me to recognize that I can best serve my own people…by making sure that my actions seek what is right for all people…Our governments and this United Nations should reflect this irreducible truth.”