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In UNGA Speech, Biden Urges Unity in Confronting Global Challenges

By Anita Powell September 21, 2021

With promises of "aggressive diplomacy," and a vow to not seek "a new Cold War," U.S. President Joe Biden used his first address before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday to push a globalist agenda, with the leader of the world's top military force saying that "U.S. military power must be our tool of last resort, not our first."

Biden, taking his place for the first time as head of state before the U.N.'s distinctive green marble rostrum, also used his half-hour speech to push for aggressive actions against COVID-19 and climate change.

"This is a clear and urgent choice that we face here at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world, a decade that will quite literally determine our futures," he said. "As a global community, we're challenged by urgent and looming crises wherein lie enormous opportunities if — if — we can summon the will and resolve to seize these opportunities."

Without mentioning his nation's greatest adversary — China — by name, Biden also vowed that he would not seek to escalate conflict. In an earlier speech before the General Assembly, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said it would be "impossible to address dramatic economic and development challenges while the world's two largest economies are at odds with each other."

"We're not seeking — I'll say it again — we are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs," Biden said. "The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up to pursue a peaceful resolution to shared challenges, even if we have intense disagreements in other areas, because we'll all suffer the consequences of our failure if we do not come together to address the urgent threats like COVID-19, climate change or enduring threats like nuclear proliferation."

'We've turned the page'

Biden also defended his controversial decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan after 20 years of American involvement there. Those comments were noted by Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.N., Ghulam Isaczai, who was appointed by the previous government, before the Taliban seized power last month. The White House has said that they are in "no rush" to recognize the Taliban as the official government.

"I stand here today, for the first time in 20 years, with the United States not at war," Biden said. "We've turned the page."

The leader of the Gulf state of Qatar, which has hosted diplomatic talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, urged the international community to continue discussions on Afghanistan.

"We emphasize here the importance of the international community's continued support to Afghanistan at this critical stage and to separate humanitarian aid from political differences," said Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. "We also stress the necessity of continuing dialogue with the Taliban because a boycott only leads to polarization and reactions, whereas dialogue could bring in positive results."

'Bumper sticker garbage'

Biden's appearance on Tuesday was a direct rebuke to the aggressive "America first" doctrine of his predecessor, Donald Trump.

"As we look ahead, we will lead," he said. "We will lead on all the greatest challenges of our time from COVID to climate, peace and security, human dignity and human rights. But we will not go it alone. We will lead together with our allies and partners in cooperation with all those who believe as we do, that this is within our power to meet these challenges, to build a future, to miss all of our people and preserve this planet."

But those words did not sit well with Biden's Republican detractors, such as House Foreign Affairs Committee lead Republican Michael McCaul. "President Biden's speech today does not match his actions," he said.

"President Biden's foreign policy is bumper sticker garbage," U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement. "His platitudes about women's rights don't protect the Taliban's rape victims. His throwaway lines about 'relentless diplomacy' don't comfort the hundreds of American citizens and thousands of American green card holders he left behind. His empty promise to 'stand up for our allies' doesn't stop a single beheading. The President's happy talk remains disconnected from reality."

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, said that Biden needs to use global platforms like the U.N. to reassure U.S. allies after two recent White House decisions ruffled feathers: the rushed, messy withdrawal from Afghanistan and the controversial pact the U.S. announced with Australia and Britain.

"It's ironic in the sense that when President Biden first took office, he indicated that restoring U.S. leadership and U.S. alliances was a key goal for him," he said. "And yet, that goal has become even more acute, for reasons of his own doing."

The annual assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York is arguably the biggest global stage for world leaders, with participants using their time to expound on topics of global and regional interest before the 193-member assembly. This year, only about 100 heads of state announced they would attend in person: the leaders of China, Iran, Egypt and Somalia are among a handful of those delivering pre-recorded comments.

Ideals vs. reality

Biden's globalist, cooperative, optimistic vision clashes with some awkward realities. On Friday, America's oldest ally, France, recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia, expressing anger over the "stab in the back" delivered by those two nations when their nuclear submarine deal nullified a nearly $70 billion French-Australian deal for conventional submarines. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden will soon hold a phone call with his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron, who did not travel to New York.

Biden also met Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. event with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In that meeting, the White House said in a statement, the two leaders "affirmed their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region, based on shared values and mutual interests, and agreed on the importance of working with allies and partners around the world, including through historic partnerships and organizations and new configurations, to defend against threats to the international rules-based order."

Later Tuesday, he will meet in Washington with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Later in the week, separate from the U.N. meeting, Biden will host a summit on COVID-19 and will also meet with both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Those two are members of the so-called "Quad," a strategic dialogue that also includes Australia, which is seen as a bulwark against growing Chinese influence.

Margaret Besheer and Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.



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