As the United Nations General Assembly gathered this week in New York, one U.N. watcher was quoted as saying: “It does feel like a particularly dreadful year.” The ballooning of the Islamic State, the ongoing genocidal civil war in Syria, Iran’s unquenched nuclear ambitions, the painful summer war between Israel and Hamas, Moscow’s creeping annexation of Ukraine — to say nothing of Ebola, which has taken 2,400 lives in West Africa, and global climate change: These are among the issues calling for the attention of the world body.
As we went to press, President Obama was scheduled to address a climate summit. The following day, he was expected to use his appearance before the General Assembly to try to build support for an anti-Islamic State coalition. These are important times for the United States to show leadership.
The United States also holds the presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month, and in that role it planned to lead a summit meeting Wednesday on the Islamic State. The presidency confers the power to set the Security Council’s agenda. As there is no shortage of security issues facing the world, we hope they will not be crowded out by a single-minded focus on the Islamic State.
While the Islamic State threat is significant, a far greater threat comes from Iran’s continued ambitions to become a nuclear power. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to make that point when he addresses the General Assembly early next week. With Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s honeymoon as the smiling president largely over, Netanyahu may get more traction with the argument that a belligerent, nuclear-armed Iran is a threat to the region as a whole. We hope that Western world leaders openly acknowledge that reality, even as they search for ways to restrain Iran through negotiations.
While those potentially existential discussions are going on, we suspect that Israel’s relations with the Palestinians will get little sympathy in the world body. Now that the war in Gaza is “over” and the peace process is going nowhere, it is likely that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will begin to play his U.N. card and seek to use various organs of the world body to punish Israel. Israel needs the continued support from the United States to restrain the Palestinian leader from such actions.
This has been a tough year. But there are many opportunities for genuine leadership to help address many of the world’s festering problems. We hope that world leaders are up to the task.