This past Tuesday, President Obama travelled to New York City to address the 67th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The annual meeting of the General Assembly brings together more than 120 world leaders to discuss important matters from around the globe. The year that has elapsed since the General Assembly last convened has been a time of remarkable change. In France, an important European ally and partner, Francois Hollande was elected as the new President; Egyptians elected Mohamed Morsi in what is billed to be the first free presidential election in Egypt's history; and in Libya, not only was the dictator Muammar Gaddafi toppled and replaced by a new president, Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf, but just two weeks prior to the President's appearance before the General Assembly, terrorists ambushed and murdered U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. The 67th Session of the General Assembly provided President Obama with a unique opportunity to engage, one-on-one, with Hollande, Morsi and Magariaf. Unfortunately, the President chose not to meet with any of them. In fact, he didn't hold a single meeting with any foreign leader during his whistle-stop tour at the U.N. Instead, the President had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton take the lead on the meetings at the U.N., while he drove across town to tape an episode of the morning television talk show, "The View."
During the time he spent at the U.N., the President delivered a wide-ranging speech to the General Assembly on a multitude of issues. It was inspiring to hear him tell the assembled world leaders that it is time to leave the politics of division behind. It was also good to hear the President affirm the leading role that entrepreneurs and business owners play in improving the economic lot of humanity. He also recognized that people have a right to practice their faith without government interference; that human beings derive dignity from work; that comfort comes from faith; and that justice exists when government serves the people rather than the other way around. I look forward to these words being put into action right here at home, which is something this President has thus far failed to do.
When he turned to the subject of Iran's nuclear program, the President missed a golden opportunity to deliver a clear message to the leaders of the world about America's resolve. The President acknowledged that Iran has consistently failed to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful. He also stated that a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained; and he listed a litany of horribles that would result if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, including: the elimination of Israel, instability in the Gulf region and in the global economy, the possibility of triggering a regional nuclear arms race, and the unraveling of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In spite of the gravity of the threat, the President assured the world -- and Iran -- that America is committed to a diplomatic solution and that a coalition of countries are working together to hold the Iranian government accountable.
There are apparently some within the Administration who are unconvinced of the illicit aims of Iran's nuclear program. In spite of the Iranian government's assurances to the contrary, the evidence suggests that Iran's goal is to acquire a nuclear weapon. Since 2006, the international community has unsuccessfully pursued diplomatic avenues and economic sanctions in an attempt to dissuade the Iranian government from continuing to develop its nuclear program. Although sanctions have caused a significant drop in Iran's oil exports, limited Iran's access to foreign currency and resulted in overall economic hardship inside Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that Iran has increased both its production of enriched uranium and the number of centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment facility with unexpected speed. Earlier this month, the IAEA passed a resolution rebuking Iran for defying demands to curb its uranium enrichment and for failing to address mounting concerns about its suspected research into nuclear weapons. Also this month, The New York Times reported that the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoon Abbasi, admitted that his government provided false information to nuclear watchdog agencies to protect its nuclear program from Western espionage. This type of Iranian subterfuge is not new. In the past, Iran hid the construction of its Natanz nuclear enrichment plant, quietly constructed nuclear facilities deep underground, and steadfastly refused to answer questions about documents and computer files that suggest Iran explored how to build a nuclear weapon and researched the explosive yields of different nuclear fuels. Why?
Contrast Iran's nefarious behavior with that of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which began construction of its own commercial nuclear reactor in 2008. Although both Iran and the UAE declare that their intent is peaceful, unlike Iran, the UAE has cooperated with the IAEA from the beginning. In addition, the UAE voluntarily renounced the right to enrich or reprocess nuclear fuel as evidence of its peaceful intent. According to UAE officials, the politically sensitive and extraordinarily expensive nature of developing enrichment facilities makes it commercially infeasible to do so. In spite of this fact, Iran has developed several enrichment sites. Why?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one world leader who does not share the President's lack of resolve when it comes to dealing with Iran's nuclear program. Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly asked President Obama to spell out a specific "red line" that Iran would not be allowed to cross in the further development of its nuclear program, but the Administration has refused to do so. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the government of Iran apparently recognize what President Obama does not -- namely, that it is only a matter of time until Iran develops a nuclear weapon and time is on Iran's side. Without a credible military threat, Iran will only quicken its pace toward a nuclear weapon as the West continues to ratchet down the Iranian economy with more sanctions. It is no coincidence that the last time Iran voluntarily suspended its nuclear program was in 2003 -- the same year that the U.S. military invaded Iraq.
In 1962, President John Kennedy was willing to risk global nuclear war with the Soviet Union to keep nuclear weapons out of Fidel Castro's communist Cuba. We make a grave error if we attribute any less zeal to the will of Israel to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of Iran's leaders today. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly threatened to eliminate Israel and wipe Israel off the map. A nuclear weapon will give the Iranian government the means to carry through with that threat. If the President continues to equivocate about America's potential response, how long will it take before Israel decides they are on their own? If that happens, we lose the ability to influence events in the Middle East, but that will not keep us from being caught up in the global fallout.
Back in 2011, during military operations in Libya, an unnamed Obama advisor told a reporter from The New Yorker that President Obama's approach to Libya could be described as "leading from behind." Apparently, that is the approach the President and his Administration are taking toward Iran as well. It is time for the President to get out of the backseat, take the wheel, and lead from where America has led best for the past 70 years -- out in front.