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The Challenge of Moving Beyond America Alone


President Obama looks on after delivering his first address to the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters September 23, 2009 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

By Dan Balz
President Obama delivered a global call to action at the United Nations Wednesday morning, but it was an expression of apparent frustration that may have best captured the moment in which he finds himself.

His address came during a whirlwind week of international gatherings and diplomacy -- a climate change summit and Middle East meetings on Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, a G-20 meeting on the international economy on Thursday. Those formal events coincided with an intensification here at home over critical choices facing the president in his Afghanistan policy.

Obama's message to the other national leaders assembled in New York was that his administration represents a clear break with the posture of the Bush administration in its dealings with allies around the world. Hailing what he called a new era in the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world, Obama ticked through the changes he said his administration has undertaken in the first eight months of his presidency.

They included the banning of torture, the order to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the winding down of the war in Iraq, a renewed focus on dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the appointment of a special envoy for the Middle East with the goal of a two-state peace agreement and fresh investment in combating climate change.

In return, Obama said, the United States expects the cooperation of others in addressing these problems. "This cannot be solely America's endeavor," the president said bluntly. "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. 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."

That summed up the challenge he faces. Can a different style, a more open hand and expressions of respect prompt the rest of the world to follow along with this administration as it tries to solve many of the same problems that confronted the Bush administration?

And to what extent will the president be willing to act, if not exactly unilaterally, then mostly alone, to advance this nation's interests?

Part of this will depend on the steadiness and consistency of Obama's leadership. He has set clear goals and, in his speech Wednesday, outlined concrete steps in some of the areas of priority. But as he delivered his address, his administration was engaged in an important debate over Afghanistan -- one that became all the more public Monday with Bob Woodward's publication The Washington Post of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's report (PDF) warning of failure in the mission there unless more troops are committed.

The report puts Obama squarely on the spot. With public support for the war eroding and with liberal activists voicing opposition to what they see as a potential quagmire in Afghanistan, White House officials have responded cautiously -- hesitantly in the assessment of some outsiders -- to McChrystal's assessment.

It was only a few months ago that the president announced a new strategy for Afghanistan. McChrystal was installed to implement that strategy. Now, in the wake of reports that the general wants more troops, administration officials suggest another new strategy may be needed.

They cite a new set of conditions, including the messy aftermath of the recent election in Afghanistan, as a cause for reassessment. In reality, the election certified rather than exposed what administration officials have long known -- that President Hamid Karzai, is an unreliable partner in the battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

What has really caused the apparent reevaluation? When he was running for president, Obama found Afghanistan a convenient policy foil for his opposition to the Iraq war, though one to which he seemed genuinely committed. Opposed to the war in Iraq, Obama was able to demonstrate muscularity on foreign policy by arguing that Iraq was consuming resources better focused on Afghanistan. As president, he has found that even more may be needed there than he believed as a candidate.

When George W. Bush was preparing a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, his advisers warned him of the difficulty of launching any military action in Afghanistan. Then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Bush that Afghanistan was about 188th of the first 189 countries where anyone would want to get involved militarily, given its history of frustrating outside invaders. Bush launched attacks in Afghanistan but soon shifted his focus to Iraq.

Obama now is confronted by Afghanistan's history, and part of his task has been to define his goals in Afghanistan narrowly. His language on Afghanistan was similar to Bush's on Iraq. He called Afghanistan the central front in the war on terror. But how could he avoid the same kind of open-ended commitment there than had happened under Bush in Iraq?

In an interview while he was a candidate, Obama told me his only real objective in Afghanistan was to confront the security threats to the United States. Afghanistan, he said, likely would never become a Jeffersonian democracy or a market economy and he wasn't intent on trying to make it one as president.

"You've got a very minimal sort of threshold when it comes to the military side," he said. "Now, I still think it's important for us to help Afghanistan develop, but in terms of military presence, I don't have grand ambitions. I just want to eliminate a sworn enemy of the United States that if it ever got its hand on nuclear weapons would be happy to set it off in a major American city." He added, "What it comes down to is a modest set of goals."

But sticking to these circumscribed goals has proven difficult as the new administration has taken hold, and McChrystal's report gave some White House officials pause. Some of Obama's advisers heard echoes of Vietnam in the military's call for more troops and more time before the mission could be considered successful.

Meanwhile, pressure has built from the outside for Obama to listen to the generals and not to waver in his commitment of the forces that they say are needed to defeat al-Qaeda. Obama's old rival, Sen. John McCain, is among those ratcheting up the pressure. He is speaking as forcefully now in favor of an escalation as he was when he called for more troops in Iraq long before Bush initiated the surge policy that helped to quell the violence there.

At the United Nations on Wednesday, Obama sought to rally the world to collective action on the challenges as diverse as the economy, nuclear proliferation and the environment. But Afghanistan now looms as an example of how the United State must set its own course before others will follow along. The rest of the world will be watching to see how the president responds.

By Web Politics Editor  |  September 23, 2009; 1:23 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Balz's Take  
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Comments

Do the Russian Navy ships 12 miles off shore requested by South America who has signed on, with missles pointed at the Oval office have anything to do with Obama's apology fest?


Apparently when Obama was elected the World began to remember the last NPD Sociopath who ruined his Country, for his vision of the greater good, then started "saving the neighbors".

The neighbors have called up Russia and Germany to put the squeeze on this pimple.

I think it is more about him, than about the American majority who want to recall all of his signatures and see the public servants blocked from misusing Courts in this Country, with illegal hides of their intel.

Just curious , when we peel open the fruad , does the UN get first dibs on him or us?

Posted by: dottydo | September 23, 2009 8:23 PM | Report abuse

----

Boy, oh boy....

They must have had a sale
on the 'I hate Obama'
panties.

Also, they must be
riding up high...you all
in a bad mood.

I hope you get some
good lotion because you
got 7 more years of this.

..............

Posted by: printthis | September 23, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse

When will Obama stop reading teleprompters and start giving speeches?? today he did not look at his audience during the whole bad performance!

He is an empty suit and no one will follow him anywhere!! Accept his Communist friends!!

Posted by: jjcrocket2 | September 23, 2009 4:27 PM
-----------

Whereas, Bush I & II were the great communicators....

Your pantties are showing

Posted by: printthis | September 23, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Obama is so pathetically stupid in his understanding of global politics and human nature, that he has become a danger to America.

Posted by: wcmillionairre | September 23, 2009 3:10 PM

Whereas, Bush I & II, Reagan, Nixon did wonders....

Please, Child!!!!!

Posted by: printthis | September 23, 2009 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Yawn.

Posted by: JAH3 | September 23, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

The One - "Responsibility and leadership in the 21st century demand more. In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate other nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed.


No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional divisions between nations of the south and the north make no sense in an interconnected world nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War."

===================
Ahhh, no balance of power generated by the People's Will expressed through their respective nations....
No, instead we will have - by Obama - a system of Law, coming from unelected lawyers and public administration sorts with advanced degrees coming from the most Elite of Elite schools. That will order how the masses must behave, and behave in multiculti harmony. With no people or culture permitted to be more accomplished and more powerful than any other noble culture, black, brown, yellow, or white...

Glad to see The One got his money's worth in Columbia's multicultural affairs courses and at Harvard Law..the notion that People Like Him are the natural new priesthood of power over all the Continents...Who will create the New Harmonious Rules the masses will cheerfully flourish by.

Ohhhh, what arrogance.!!

Nixon is chuckling in Purgatory..
Mao and Stalin laughing in Hell.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | September 23, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse


TO: tbastian who wrote:
“As much as I dislike Obama (trust me) I cannot find blame with his stance on extending a hand to the rest of the world and asking for them to help be a solution. It makes sense....

However, he does have a major issue with Afghanistan. Name the last country to EVER acheive vistory there... not his fault but it has become his problem to solve.

… You just can't do it. Best of all the leader of Lybia just stated that he wishes that Obama can stay president forever... why does a terrorist whacko want him in forever?...
______________________

You make it seem as if making clear that you “dislike the POTUS” is the price of admission here.

We don’t need victory in Afghanistan, and to my knowledge there is no “victory” sought. What we are looking for in Afghanistan is Osama Bin Laden, dead or alive, remember?

Anyone can say they wish Obama could stay President forever because Obama is a nice guy, and obviously easy to talk to.

Moron.

Posted by: lindalovejones | September 23, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse


It is obvious America did not become great until Barry became President. We can all, like the angry bitter Michelle, now be proud of America. Barry is President of the World and secondarily The United States, all bow.

Posted by: ChangeWhat | September 23, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

When will Obama stop reading teleprompters and start giving speeches?? today he did not look at his audience during the whole bad performance!

He is an empty suit and no one will follow him anywhere!! Accept his Communist friends!!

Posted by: jjcrocket2 | September 23, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

The problem is the world in 2009 is still run by men, some such as Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, Gaddafi, Putin, Taliban etc. suffer from mental illness.
We may ponder the questions " what did American Military Leaders learn after Vietnam and tons of Napalm?. What did they learn from looking at the history of Afghanistan?. What did they learn from the IRA?. What did they learn from "Blackhawk Down?".
I notice some of you fighting men are still in America and not in Iraq or Afghanistan??. I know! you are just following the tradition of Bush and Cheney and Palin, hawks to the end who have only used a gun to shoot a poor defenceless animal.

Posted by: JillCalifornia | September 23, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Barry ACORN Soetoro had a 75% approval after the inauguration. He is now barely able to maintain a 50% approval, even with on going cover from the corrupt MSM. The rapid decent is breathtaking. Independents are deserting him. Only his hard core far left Libs and yet still naive young that have no skin in the game remain loyal. The young however are beginning to come out from underneath the Barry spell and are realizing Barry is screwing their future deep into the mud with his Radical policies. Only his completely indoctrinated Cult Members will continue to lay down and chant, "Take Me Barry, I Am Yours" to the bitter end.

2010 and 12 cannot come soon enough!

Posted by: ChangeWhat | September 23, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

The Russian Ambassador earlier this month warned the United States DO NOT SEND MORE TROOPS. It will only make the same problems get larger. Instead of containing the current Taliban region, the entire country will become the Taliban, and you will soon need to deploy 500,000 new troops, unfortunately.
DO you not trust the Russian Ambassador to be giving the best advice? Then how can Washington correctly trust Russia's intentions in anything? Has Russia raised its "military consulting" and "air strip runway" fees to the US DOD yet? They intend to because of Russian budget shortfalls in 2010. Now WHO can you trust in Afghanistan and HOW can you win a war based on that trust? You cannot win. I'm sorry.

Posted by: fair1 | September 23, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

As much as I dislike Obama ( trust me ) I cannot find blame with his stance on extending a hand to the rest of the world and asking for them to help be a solution. It make sense....

However, he does have a major issue with Afghanistan.. name the last country to EVER acheive vistory there... not his fault but it has become his problem to solve.

He is still trying to run around and be all things to all people. You just can't do it. Best of all the leader of Lybia just stated that he wishes that Obama can stay president forever... why does a terrorist whacko want him in forever? Is it becuase he is weak?

Posted by: tbastian | September 23, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

You reactionary teabaggers still projecting your evil onto Obama? If you really want to see your devil face to face, try looking in the mirror. Give the rest of us a break and deal with your issues.

We've got a republican disaster-capitalist mess to clean up. Either help, or shut up and get ourt of the way. Freedom of speech is great, but we can't continue wasting time and energy listening to the rantings of irrational lunatics.

Posted by: rooster54 | September 23, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

There is nothing especially compelling in Obama's speech that was reported here, nothing that will compel the Europeans to commit more to our global effort against terror. Or to change their stubborn behavior on a range of issues.


The staunchest of allies, making the most difficult commitments in our favor Obama has slapped in the face. England, Poland, Czech repub, Georgia to name a few European nations we turned our back on recently. Honduras comes fresh to mind as a small nation that made big commitments proportional to the size of their military and population, we slapped them hard. Columbia comes to mind, snubbed as we reach out and validate despots like Chavez and would be Zalaya.


Only a fool would trust this guy now (Obama) , and the only genuine 'diplomatic' smiles he will generate in International circles from now on will be from our enemies.

Posted by: Homunculus | September 23, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

OBAMA'S VIETNAM?

If President Obama succumbs to the "Endless War" cabal, he will squander America's resources; unnecessarily spill more American blood; further alienate his political base; and suffer a fate similar to LBJ.

Let's hope he's a student of other nations' failed Afghan adventures.

A far more imminent threat exists within his own administration, one which is decimating the rule of law and violating human and civil rights at the GRASSROOTS -- while POTUS seems preoccupied with establishing a new global order:

http://nowpublic.com/world/gestapo-usa-govt-funded-vigilante-network-terrorizes-america

Posted by: scrivener50 | September 23, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Laughter erupts in the muslim world after obama's speech... Qaddafi invited obama to his tent for some brotherly love and fist-bumping.

Posted by: JWx2 | September 23, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

In my estimation the old search and destroy approach was rightly abandoned by the generals as counterproductive. However the new more restrained counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy is not even close to being sufficiently better to "win" the war in Afghanistan, (whatever that means). It has uneven support among the troops. It only leads to a Viet Nam-like quagmire war and eventual humiliating withdraw ordered by a successor US President who will have campaigned on a pledge to bring the troops home. Neither can a campaign limited to missile and air strikes and special forces raids do much beyond providing some political cover for withdraw of stationed land forces.

The fact is that the main defenses against future terror strikes at home are what can be done within our own borders and, along with that, what can be done with diplomacy and foreign policy to discredit terrorist organizations abroad and minimize their support. Military force is, at its best. almost useless against organized terror much as it is usually an ineffective and inappropriate tool for use against organized crime. At much less than its best, military force is counterproductive and that it how it tends to be applied even when the strategists and military historians and theorists know better.

Posted by: Adam_Smith | September 23, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Obama is so pathetically stupid in his understanding of global politics and human nature, that he has become a danger to America.

Posted by: wcmillionairre | September 23, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Of course they will follow Obama until they see him steer America off a cliff .

Posted by: Imarkex | September 23, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Obama gave his speech like a high school principal reprimanding everybody in sight. He made a mistake in not installing any confidence in his listeners as to the strength of American purpose in the world, i.e. religious, moral or otherwise. In nothing that he said would anybody find any reason to feel good about America or trust in it's future. It took away the identification of Obama being a leader and made him instead a chief of police. If Obama had been making a speech about civil rights, then I would be more understanding.

Posted by: allset707 | September 23, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

How about this for a challenge?

Let's bring all of our troops home from everywhere....

Let's save lives....

Let's spend our money, our resources in America.....

Posted by: abbydelabbey | September 23, 2009 2:40 PM

________________________________________

I would love to see our military home, with all the other countries expected to use their own military. But I can only imagine that screams that would follow!

Posted by: cschotta1 | September 23, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

How about this for a challenge?

Let's bring all of our troops home from everywhere....

Let's save lives....

Let's spend our money, our resources in America.....

Posted by: abbydelabbey | September 23, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Obama empowers enemies while undercutting allies.

Brilliant!

I think that the "change" brought by Obama to America has set the stage for a conservative surge in the coming years, and Sarah Palin finds herself well positioned to capitalize on the conservative Christian Republican base's disgust with the nation's course, a la “CHANGE FOR AMERICA, JACKASS STYLE – THE DEMOCRAT PARTY’S WAR ON CHRISTIANITY” at

http://firebreathingchristian.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/change-for-america-jackass-style-the-democrat-partys-war-on-christianity/

Posted by: FireBreather | September 23, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Another speech, followed by another speech, followed by another speech.....

Posted by: cschotta1 | September 23, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

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