Obama's UN speech can't quash fears of 'messed-up, broken' world

Tim Skillern
Yahoo News
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U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Yahoo asked Americans to respond to President Barack Obama’s address to the United Nations and pinpoint one specific international issue they’d like the country to focus on. Here are excerpts from thoughts shared with us this morning.

Talk on Iran is different, if not hopeful

His comments on Iran were perhaps the most exciting news of all. The possibility that, after the act-first-talk-later approach to Iraq and Afghanistan, negotiations to end Iran's nuclear program may actually work is the best news of all. The new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has seemed more than willing to find an end to the "comprehensive sanctions" against Iran that have damaged its economy. With any luck, he is sincere in his pursuit of a solution.

Of note as well is the subtle way Obama tried to tie Iran and Israel together. In his comments on chemical weapons, the president referenced both the "Jews slaughtered in gas chambers" during the holocaust and the "Iranians poisoned by the many tens of thousands" in the Iran-Iraq war. Yes, the comparison may not be much, but it shows that Iranians and Israelis have a common painful history and should look to share a peaceful world in the future.

Negotiations with Iran may prove to go nowhere, as they did a few years ago when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad governed the country. The presidents of Iran and the United States have not met in 33 years. But a new face of Iran gives a chance of hope that the conflicts can be resolved without even one shot being fired.

Zachary Schrieber, Fair Lawn, N.J.

Questions remain about humanitarian spending

Among various topics Obama addressed at the UN this morning, the president said "we will be providing an additional $340 million" in humanitarian aid to combat the Syrian crisis.

When will the spending end?

The United States has already sent more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid, but it seems not enough if additional amounts are scheduled. Is there a cap on aid? When will we reach our limit? These are important questions U.S. citizens must ask. Also, let’s consider: Who has the authority to determine how much money is sent? Whom is it sent to? How is the money spent?

— Michelle Stevens, El Dorado Hills, Calif.

If you want peace (or oil), prepare for war

The word "peace" resounded again and again, while threats of war and destruction thundered beneath the surface. The drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan was counterpoised against the unspoken but well-understood threat of escalating interventions in other countries.

A pitch for intervention in Syria was made, based on its use of chemical weapons. If anyone can expound on the horrors of chemical warfare, it is the president of United States. After all, we invented Agent Orange, which the Vietnamese government estimates caused disabilities to thousands of Vietnamese civilians. We were the first and only nation in history to use nuclear weapons against unarmed civilians of an enemy state, and routinely dropped napalm on its citizens during World War II. We, the Israelis and the British have used white phosphorus against the Palestinian and Iraqi people. In Iraq, the United States dropped radioactive depleted uranium on the Iraqi people, resulting in thousands of birth defects. We supported Saddam Hussein in his use of sarin, nerve gas and mustard gas against Iranian and Kurdish populations. To this day, the United States unabashedly uses tear gas against its own citizens to subdue peaceful protestors who pose a threat to corporate interests.

Perhaps the most truthful line delivered in today's speech was near the end when, speaking of the Middle East, the president declared, "The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region." He went on to delineate those interests, which boiled down to one thing: oil.

— Michelle Matte, Norfolk, Va.

Syria, Iran must be stopped now

The nuclear and chemical weapons programs of Iran and Syria are important to address because of the devastation they can cause. When countries use chemical weapons, it is like a direct invitation for other countries to get involved because it affects everyone. It needs to be clear the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated, and stockpiling them is unacceptable. For this reason, the United States does need to draw a line, and act if anyone crosses it — as President Obama alluded to when he said, "Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN Security Council resolutions."

The United States has spent billions in aid to help the people of Syria, and that alone gives the United States a reason to respond to the Syrian crisis. We cannot continue to aid Syria at the rate we are handing out money, especially considering the budget crisis at home. For this reason, countries need to come together to bring an end to Assad massacring his own people now. At this point, it is up to the United States to lead the way since no one else is.

— Janoa Taylor, Chicago, Ill.

United States can’t hide its own sins

His call for diplomatic repairs was echoed by recently elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. While no formal plans have been made for a formal meeting of any sorts between the two nations, it is a sign of progress that the two countries would spend time in their address to the entire General Assembly to discuss greater diplomatic relations.

The most immediate reaction to U.S. policy at the United Nations today, however, was the address given by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. She was critical of recently reported NSA surveillance and intelligence gathering on Brazilian citizens and its politicians. She called it a violation of human rights, saying: “Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and is an affront of the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations.”

President Obama, who was en route to the UNGA while she was speaking, gave no response to her criticism.

— Eric Jonathan Martin, Newport, R.I.

Obama’s wishful thinking doesn’t jibe with reality

The president said, "As a result of this work and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago."

I admit this statement makes his foreign policy look great. Is it really true, though? A civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people in two years, there was a violent overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and, just recently, a terrorist attack killed dozens in a Kenyan mall. It's a nice thing to think, but the reality is the world is and will always be a messed-up, broken place.

— Brian Sandell, Shippensburg, Pa.