The president will
need to prevent U.S. diplomatic isolation in the wake of the Palestinian
statehood bid and reassure the world that congressional myopia will not derail reengagement with the world body
Obama walks to a high-level meeting on Libya at the United Nations in New York / Reuters
When President Barack Obama takes the podium September 21 at the opening session of the sixty-sixth United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the love-fest of 2009 will be a distant memory. Instead, the president will face landmines both foreign and domestic. The Palestinian Authority will be submitting an application to the UN Security Council (UNSC) this week for full UN membership. This poses an excruciating dilemma for Obama, who declared his hope for a two-state solution last year at the same podium. Undersecretary of State Wendy Chamberlain has made it clear that the United States will veto any such resolution, on the grounds that a negotiated settlement must come first. This stance puts Washington on a collision course with most UN members--and threatens to alienate the Arab world.
Meanwhile, the president is fighting another fire at home: congressional critics who are seeking to slash funding for--and micro-manage U.S. relations with--the world body. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, GOP chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has introduced legislation that would unilaterally halve U.S. assessed contributions for the UN's regular and peacekeeping budgets unless the UN shifts to an entirely "voluntary" funding scheme. This à la carte approach would allow the United States to cherry-pick UN programs. It is also an invitation to chaos that would undercut U.S. national interests, as other countries mimic U.S. behavior and un-fund U.S. priorities.