At the latest UN General Assembly, we saw some of  ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ in the present unsteady state of international relations.

We may have moved a bit past the time when our foreign policy largely ignored the UN except when coopting it to serve as a cover for a US-led military adventure. The recent multi-nation agreement with Iran, along with the calamitous consequences of US military intervention in the Middle East, challenge frozen notions that have dominated US foreign policy. That at least should open the door to new approaches based on more realistic assessments.

Despite the posturing and jousting between Putin and Obama, their cold handshake and private meeting was a reluctant acknowledgement of mutual concerns. There are critical problems, including the spread of ISIS, in which the United States, Russia, Iran — and the UN — have to recognize a need to cooperate. But there is a very rocky road to travel, as reaction to today’s news of Russian military action in Syria demonstrates. There are shared national interests that merge with the common global interest of averting catastrophe from war and environmental crises. But there is always the powerful negative impact of deep-seated great power rivalries, competing for dominance and markets, clashing wherever spheres of influence are at stake.

Renewed attention to the importance of the UN General Assembly is itself a good thing. Beyond the multitude of speeches, one could sense the diminished influence of the superpower model of dealing with problems of “world order”.  That’s good for countries whose people have been victimized by bombings, blockades and/or occupation in violation of international law.

The gap between world opinion and the present political climate in our country was on display during the Assembly sessions. John McCain castigated Obama for even talking with Putin; Marco Rubio and his bizarre cohorts couldn’t abide Obama’s warm handshake with Raoul Castro. But the gap was underscored all the more by the visit of Pope Francis to the United States overlapping the UN gathering: he spoke for peace and international cooperation, for the common good against a system of greed and aggressive militarism.

It is a realizable goal to register majority opinion in the United States for a more realistic foreign policy, one that is open to necessary international cooperation. That calls for a renewed appreciation of the UN. The world sorely needs a more influential and effective UN General Assembly.

Added October 1:   


The Russians want to save the Syrian government and fight ISIS. The US government wants a commitment for “regime change” in Syria. The bombs are flying and the danger of deadly miscalculation is rising.

Bombs per se can’t bring sanity and peace to the Middle East. Cooperation with Russia, Iran and Iraq — coordinated through the UN — could be a more constructive and hopeful approach over time. Maybe there’s a lesson in the Iran-P+1 achievement, although that problem was nowhere near as difficult. Worth a try…. and the vast majority of people, who want no repeat of the 20th Century’s debacles, have to demand it!

Leon Wofsy, a one-time leader of Marxist youth organizations, is Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology/Immunology at the University of California at Berkeley. Visit his work at Leon’s Op-Ed.