Dunsmore: Obama at the U.N.

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(HOST) For many weeks President Barak Obama has focused his attention on health care reform. However as commentator Barrie Dunsmore notes, this week the problems of the world have captured the president’s attention and they are even harder to fix than health care.

(DUNSMORE) After President Obama’s maiden speech to the United Nations Wednesday, a pundit remarked that Obama and his teleprompter are like Yo Yo Ma and his cello.

Both men of course are world class performers. But a speech, no matter how inspired, does not in itself change the world. As we could see this past week, President Obama is being challenged on an extraordinary range of seemingly insoluble international problems.

The global economy may no longer be in crisis, but it’s clear that major problems remain and very little has yet been done in the form of new regulations that will prevent a repetition of last year’s economic meltdown. There is also a potentially dangerous trade dispute brewing between the U.S. and China.

In December a new international conference on climate change will convene in Copenhagen. The goal is to get a new global agreement to significantly reduce green house gases. Unlike his predecessor Obama strongly supports the concept. There has also been some positive movement in the Chinese position. But so far the U.S. Senate has shown no inclination to follow up on a House bill dealing with climate change. And given the intensity of the health care debate, no major environmental legislation is expected out of the Senate any time soon. That will weaken America’s hand in Copenhagen  

Meantime three other vexing problems are festering.

In Afghanistan, the president is facing a crucial decision on whether to increase the U.S. military presence – a decision with major implications including domestic, as Americans grow weary and skeptical of this long war.

In Israel-Palestine the Israelis have rejected Obama’s demand that they freeze the building of settlements on Palestinian land, leaving that dispute and America’s mediation role in limbo.  

Finally, there’s the escalating crisis with Iran. Next week in Geneva, the Obama administration will join Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in senior level meetings with Iran. The Iranians will be urged to disclose their nuclear program or face stiffer international sanctions – now more likely because two days ago the Russians signaled they are ready to agree on further sanctions.

Still no one believes this first meeting will initially produce very much. Yet there is urgency because Iran’s persistent denial of the Holocaust and its threats against Israel, raise the possibility that Israel itself will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities – which could set off a catastrophic new Middle East War.

On this issue, there recently was an interesting development.  Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier, a former Prime Minister and the current Defense minister, said in an interview with a major Israeli newspaper quote "Iran does not constitute an existential threat to Israel." This is a clear break from the position of some Israeli leaders and America’s neo-conservatives who have argued that a nuclear Iran would put Israel’s very existence at risk.  General Barak is effectively saying that Israel’s own significant nuclear arsenal is an effective deterrent against any Iranian threat – because the ayatollahs, however malevolent, are not suicidal.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Barrie Dunsmore on line at VPR-dot-net.

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