Obama’s 2014 UN General Assembly Address: The Speech

In 2014, President Barack Obama gave his annual address to the General Assembly of the United Nations. With each year, the president outlines a different agenda and a series of points in coordination with what the Unites States is doing  to promote the “founding principles” of the UN. With last year’s speech, the president took time to hit on a number of points with one final goal: explain the country’s stance on a slew of international issues including Russian policy, global warming and eventually, lead up to his main point of international terrorism and ISIS.

As with most political endeavors, the speech comes across as very broad with its intentions. The president uses powerful, inspiration words such as “take action,” and “ensure a better future,” all in an attempt to conjure a reaction from the UN. While it is obvious that the speech is designed to sway and invigorate more than anything else, the effectiveness is somewhat foggy as he continues speaking.

Courtesy: The Star Tribune

(Courtesy: The Star Tribune)

One of the most interesting aspects of the speech is the progression that it takes. Obama begins by directly addressing one of the hottest topics of last September, the month the speech was given: Russian influence in Ukraine. Obama takes time to call out Russia immediately by saying, “Russia has poured arms into Ukraine, which has stirred up and fueled the band of separatists. And for that, the United States will impose a cost on them for over-aggression.” Considering the boldness of this claim, a factual basis should be planted firmly behind the statement; and in this case, the facts do check out. Obama’s claim that Russia has been supporting anti-democratic Ukraine militants is correct. In fact, Russia has been supplying and supporting the same militant group since the late 90’s and has been increasing aid in present years.

However, the fact-check does not end there. In the latter portion of the president’s statement, he claims that sanctions will be placed upon Russia for their actions. As of March 6th, 2015, the president has signed an executive order sanctioning the country for its actions against Ukraine. So, action has been taken, however a significant delay occurs between the words in September and the action in March. To follow up with the Russia segment of the address, Obama pledges support to Ukraine. Unlike the Russian sanctions, the US took near-immediate action to aid Ukraine in cooperation with the president’s words. To date, the US has pledged over $300 million to Ukraine, with a $1 billion loan guarantee to follow up.

From a truth point of view, the address does begin on a semi-strong foot, with the president making bold comments that are, for the most part, verifiable through facts. Once the segment reviewing Russian foreign policy ended, the president somewhat abstractly changed the tone to focus on global economy. This attempt eventually leads into his main point of fighting terrorism, but does so in a manner that is not necessarily clear. When speaking on the global economy, the president shifts the spotlight to Africa, and makes several more large claims in the process.

The UN General Assembly (Courtesy: UN.org)

The UN General Assembly
(Courtesy: UN.org)

Unfortunately for the president and his address, this is where the facts begin to turn merely into pomp and circumstance and separate from reality. Obama claims, “A quarter of young people in Africa are unemployed; this is unacceptable.” Alongside other issues, this statement is imperfectly vague. What is a young person? Which country in Africa? With these issues going unanswered, it is no wonder that the statement is profusely false. In the Central African Republic, the unemployment rate for people ages 15-24 is 13%, substantially less than 25%. Additionally, nearby countries such as Uganda also exhibit unemployment rates closer to 10%. Obama was attempting to heighten recognition of a failing global economy due to an inactive UN. Unfortunately, this effort was fallaciously presented and ridden with inaccuracy.

Following up with the global ideology, Obama turns his attention to carbon emissions worldwide. He established the US as a world leader in carbon reduction and one of the leading forces in making the planet greener. Following his trail of vague claims, Obama establishing the US a leader in carbon emissions reduction is not entirely accurate, considering the fact that it is American companies leading the charge in emissions reduction, not the government.

Moving on to the meat and potatoes portion of Obama’s speech, he darts into the hot topic of global terrorism. With the world focused on the actions of ISIS, Obama outlines an all-encapsulating plan: band together as United Nations and take a stance against ISIS. From this part of the speech to the final goodbye, the president does not make any deep truth claims. Instead, he calls for action, without really implying what that action may entail. Using words like “take a stand” and “defeat the terrorist together,” the president hoped to conjure an emotional uprise from the UN General Assembly.

By not making any significant claims in this part of the speech, the president’s broad and shallow language does not seems to sit well with the esteemed audience. There are camera cuts to members of countries that have actually fallen asleep during the 36-or-so minute speech. Nevertheless, Obama continues to push hard, referring to multiple accounts of the ISIS group beheading innocent people, even killing children. The final truth claim of the speech is one that is fairly easily verifiable. Obama alludes to the fact that the civil war in Syria, which was largely brought upon by ISIS, has killed 200,000 civilians. This claim is verifiable by both the country of Syria in addition to several other sources. At the time of the speech, over 230,000 were killed in Syria’s civil war.

In the aftermath of the president’s UN address, many say that the message was unclear. Of course, the president’s intention was to highlight the importance of coming together as a collection of nations. That being said, the speech conveys a scattered message rather than a succinct one.

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