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In Final UN Speech, Obama Urges ‘Course Correction,’ Criticizes Russia’s Use Of Force

  • Carl Schreck

U.S. President Barack Obama on September 20 called for a “course correction” on the current path to global integration, urging the world to reject models of governance that perpetuate economic inequality, intolerance, authoritarianism, and isolationism.

In his final address to the UN General Assembly after nearly eight years in office, Obama said that Russia was seeking to regain “lost glory” through the use of force and warned that interference in its neighbors’ affairs would make it less respected and less secure.

In the broad-ranging speech, Obama said that globalization has revealed "deep fault lines" throughout the world and that government “neglect” of a range of social and economic issues has spawned “alternative visions of the world” that threaten progress.

“We cannot dismiss these visions,” he said. “They are powerful. They reflect dissatisfaction among too many of our citizens. I do not believe those visions can deliver security or prosperity over the long term. But I do believe that these visions fail to recognize at a very basic level our common humanity.”

Obama laid out an impassioned case for “liberal” governance based on free markets, civic engagement, transparent institutions, and respect for human rights and international law.

He accused President Vladimir Putin’s Russia of “attempting to recover lost glory through force,” a reference to Moscow’s 2014 takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea territory and backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and for continuing “to interfere in the affairs of its neighbors.”

“It may be popular at home. It may fuel nationalist fervor for a time. But over time it is also going to diminish [Russia’s] stature and make its borders less secure,” Obama said.

Nations are wrong to embrace a government model that favors “the strong man” over democratic institutions and relies on quashing dissent and stoking fears of foreign enemies, he said.

The U.S. president launched a bid to "reset" troubled relations with Russia early in his first term, but ties have been severely strained by Moscow's interference in Ukraine and tension over other issues since Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012.

Obama also delivered a thinly veiled denouncement of the platform of Donald Trump, who has vowed to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico in what the Republican presidential candidate calls a necessary move to stem flow of illegal immigrants and drugs into the United States.

"Today, a nation surrounded by walls would only imprison itself," he said.

Addressing the issue of climate change, Obama urged the world to “act boldly” on the Paris climate deal in order to ensure that future generations are not left with a world and societies that are beyond repair.

"If we don't act boldly, the bill that could come due will be mass migrations and cities submerged and nations displaced and food supplies decimated and conflicts born of despair," he said.

With reporting by AP