In his fi­nal ad­dress be­fore the United Na­tions, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama praises global in­te­gra­tion and pushes against iso­la­tion­ism.

He touts in­te­gra­tion in fi­nal U.N. ad­dress

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Christi Par­sons christi.par­sons@la­times.com

UNITED NA­TIONS — Pres­i­dent Barack Obama used his fi­nal ad­dress be­fore the United Na­tions on Tues­day to praise global in­te­gra­tion and warn against the im­pulse to shut it out, call­ing on Amer­i­cans and for­eign­ers alike to tear down walls, not build them.

In a sweep­ing ad­dress that touched on the world’s trouble spots — in­clud­ing the 5-year-old civil war in Syria, the refugee cri­sis stem­ming from that na­tion and else­where, and creep­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in Rus­sia and Eastern Europe — Obama sug­gested they all are re­lated to each other, and to a drive to­ward iso­la­tion­ism.

That im­pulse is self-de­feat­ing, he ar­gued.

“To­day, a na­tion ringed by walls would only im­prison it­self,” Obama said. “The an­swer can­not be a sim­ple re­jec­tion of global in­te­gra­tion. In­stead, we must work to­gether to make sure the ben­e­fits of such in­te­gra­tion are broadly shared and that the dis­rup­tions — eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural — that are caused by in­te­gra­tion are squarely ad­dressed.”

The line also was one of sev­eral oblique ref­er­ences to Don­ald Trump, as a sub­text of Obama’s speech was an ar­gu­ment against the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee’s can­di­dacy. Each na­tion can choose to “re­ject those who ap­peal to our worst im­pulses,” he also said, “and em­brace those who ap­peal to our best.”

Ahead of the pres­i­dent’s eighth and fi­nal ad­dress at the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly, aides looked back to Obama’s first speech there in 2009, when he laid out a plan to fix the “skep­ti­cism and dis­trust” he be­lieved had built up un­der Presi- dent Ge­orge W. Bush, fu­el­ing “re­flex­ive anti-Amer­i­can­ism” that served as an ex­cuse for col­lec­tive in­ac­tion. The au­di­ence re­ceived him warmly that day, in con­trast with the si­lence Bush was of­ten greeted with.

At the time, Obama listed his ac­com­plish­ments in his few months in of­fice, in­clud­ing or­der­ing clo­sure of the de­ten­tion cen­ter at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, the phase-out of the war in Iraq and the nam­ing of a spe­cial Mid­dle East en­voy work­ing to­ward a two-state peace agree­ment be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans.

By con­trast, Obama’s speech Tues­day re­flected a touch of hu­mil­ity in a pres­i­dent who has watched Con- gress thwart his pro­pos­als to close Guan­tanamo, seen chaos in the wake of the Iraq with­drawal and wit­nessed the col­lapse of peace talks.

In ad­di­tion, the gath­er­ing of world lead­ers un­folded in the shadow of bomb­ings over the week­end in New York and New Jersey that raised the specter of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism and its in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ences, as well as the end of a brief cease-fire in Syria’s civil war.

Though Obama as­serted that the world is less vi­o­lent than ever and that bil­lions of peo­ple are bet­ter off thanks to the in­te­gra­tion of the global econ­omy, he ar­gued that to keep mov­ing for­ward, global in­te­gra­tion needs a “course cor­rec­tion” to make sure that all share in pros­per­ity and that jus­tice is ap­plied equally.

In­te­gra­tion also has brought about a col­li­sion of cul­tures, he said.

“We see lib­eral so­ci­eties ex­press op­po­si­tion when women choose to cover them­selves,” Obama said. “We see protests re­spond­ing to Western news­pa­per car­toons, the car­i­ca­ture of the Prophet Muham­mad. In a world that left the age of em­pire be­hind, we see Rus­sia at­tempt­ing to re­cover lost glory through force.

“There’s no easy an­swer for re­solv­ing all these so­cial forces,” he said. “But I do not be­lieve progress is pos­si­ble if our de­sire to pre­serve our iden­ti­ties gives way to an im­pulse to de­hu­man­ize or dom­i­nate an­other group.”

U.S. stand­ing in the world is an aber­ra­tion, Obama noted.

“For most of hu­man his­tory, power has not been unipo­lar, and the end of the Cold War may have led too many to for­get this truth,” he said. “I’ve no­ticed as pres­i­dent that at times, both Amer­ica’s ad­ver­saries and some of our al­lies be­lieve that all prob­lems were ei­ther caused by Washington or could be solved by Washington.

“And per­haps too many in Washington be­lieve that, as well,” he added, to laugh­ter.

The pres­i­dent spoke with aides be­fore the speech about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s let­ter from jail in Birm­ing­ham, Ala., in which he wrote about how the ac­tions of one per­son might in­form the big­gest de­ci­sions made dur­ing his time.

“Our iden­ti­ties … don’t have to be de­fined in op­po­si­tion to other, but rather by a be­lief in lib­erty and equal­ity and jus­tice, fair­ness,” Obama said, go­ing on to quote King. “My faith in those prin­ci­ples does force me to ex­pand my moral imag­i­na­tion and to rec­og­nize that I can best serve my own peo­ple — I can best look after my own daugh­ters — by mak­ing sure that my ac­tions seek what is right for all peo­ple and all chil­dren and your daugh­ters and your sons.”

JIM WAT­SON/GETTY-AFP

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s speech Tues­day was also an ar­gu­ment against Don­ald Trump.

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