Three key elements of President Obama’s speech before the UN stand out:
1. The president took a tough stance on Ukraine, balanced by an offer to lift sanctions if Russia reverses course in their drive to destabilize Ukraine.
This is the right mix of carrot and stick, and while it does not justify the annexation of Crimea, it at least condemns Russia in strong terms for acting on the wrong side of history.
2. The president deployed a predictably unrelenting line against the Islamic State and called for full global condemnation in the form of a UN Security Council mandate. This opens the door to build out the coalition against the Islamic State from the 40 nations loosely aligned at the moment to something of truly global proportions. Notably he also called for Muslim states around the world to dramatically, loudly, and consistently condemn the Islamic State for draping themselves so inappropriately in the mantle of Islam.
3. Obama addressed a threat that could potentially be the worst of all: an unconfined spread of the Ebola virus, especially if it morphs into something even worse after repeated exposure to humans. This is the ultimate black swan (low probability, but huge impact), and the president rightly led a call to widen the response broadly.
All in all, it was a wide-ranging speech with specific action points. Will it move the needle? The best hope is probably on Ebola. On the Islamic State, there may be some level of UN condemnation. And on Ukraine, Russian reversal seems highly unlikely. A mixed result, but the right set of recommendations in these three key areas.
Watch Obama’s speech