While casting his nation as the keeper of global order and saying the age of dictatorships is over, President Obama on Monday stressed that the U.S. is ready and willing to work with countries such as Iran, Russia and China and harbors no irreversible ill will toward its old adversaries.
In a highly anticipated speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, Mr. Obama said his administration accepts the fact that the U.S. must cooperate with nations around the world, even those that often violate international norms or human rights. Such cooperation, the president said, is necessary in the 21st century.
“If we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences. That is true for the United States, as well, no matter how powerful our military … We understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone. In Iraq, the United States learned the hard lesson” that the U.S. cannot act alone, he said.
The U.S. has no inherent quarrels with China or Russia, Mr. Obama said, but will continue to stand up for the basic international code of conduct.
And he stressed for the global audience: “I lead the strongest military the world has ever known.
“I will never hesitate to protect my country and our allies unilaterally and by force when necessary.”
U.S. economic sanctions on Russia — the result of continued Russian military aggression in Ukraine — are designed to maintain global order, not merely to punish Moscow or stoke further tension between the two old Cold War foes.
“America has few economic interests in Ukraine. We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine. But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is blatantly violated,” Mr. Obama said. “We want a strong russia that’s invested in working with us to strengthen the international system as a whole.”
The same holds true with the U.S.-China relationship, the president said, stressing that China’s aggression in the South China Sea isn’t of particular interest to the U.S., other than the problems it poses for fundamental global freedoms.
“In the South China Sea, the United States makes no claim on territory there … But like every nation gathered here, we have an interesting in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation,” he said.
More broadly, the president said the age of dictators has come to an end, but he also acknowledged that the U.S. and other world leaders must do more to ensure a country doesn’t descend into chaos when a strongman falls.
He admitted that a U.S.-led coalition should have done more to maintain order in Libya after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi and said the world has a responsibility to help rebuild Syria after President Bashar Assad inevitably is driven from power.
The fall of dictators around the world, Mr. Obama said, is a trend that cannot be stopped.
“Dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow. You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas,” he said. “You cannot turn a lie into truth. It is not a conspiracy of U.S.-backed [organizations] that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe. It’s technology, social media, and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed.”