By Stephen Schlesinger
President Barack Obama has dramatically re-established American relations with the United Nations in his first 100 days. His acclaimed multilateral outlook on international relations, his willingness to listen to foreign leaders rather than lecture them, his admission of “mistakes” by the United States on issues like torture, the economy, the Iraq war, and other global matters—and his general popularity around the world—have created an entirely new atmosphere in the United Nations building.
In the seventh week of his administration, he held his first meeting with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the White House, a cordial and highly supportive event. Then, with several specific steps, Obama made crystal clear his re-engagement with the world body:
First, he approved the United States joining the newly created Human Rights Council rather than staying outside of it, in order to reorient the body toward its goal of enforcing the essential civil rights for citizens in all states.
Second, he asked Congress to appropriate $836 million to pay up our peacekeeping obligations which we have shamefully refused in the past to fulfill.
Third, he made a new commitment to helping stop climate change—a key issue at the UN these days.
Fourth, he reversed by executive order the Bush administration policy of denying U.S. funds to family planning programs at the UN’s Population Fund.
Fifth, he renewed and expanded funding to both UNICEF and UNESCO, both organizations long neglected by Washington in the past.
Sixth, he publicly endorsed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, among other crucial UN treaties, and pledged to participate vigorously in the UN’s upcoming 2010 review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the latter of which the previous administration disparaged.
Seventh, he publicly embraced the Millennium Development goals, which Bush viewed with disdain.
Obama, however, did duck out of the Durban conference on racism and he has so far not said much about the International Criminal Court. Additionally, he has not been heavily proactive on the Darfur crisis, as of yet.
But, in my view, for his first 100 days, he deserves a grade of…
On the UN: A –
Stephen Schlesinger is an adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation and the former director of the World Policy Institute. He is the co-author of Bitter Fruit about the U.S. coup in Guatemala, author of Act of Creation about the founding of the United Nations, and co-editor of Journals 1952–2000, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.