Confronted by the growing threat of Middle East militants, President Barack Obama implored world leaders at the United Nations Wednesday to rally behind his expanding military campaign to stamp out the violent Islamic State group and its “network of death.”
“There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil,” Obama told the General Assembly. In a striking shift for a president who has been reluctant to take military action in the past, Obama declared that force is the only language the militants understand. He warned those who have joined their cause to “leave the battlefield while they can.”
The widening war against the Islamic State was just one in a cascade of crises that confronted the presidents, prime ministers and monarchs at the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Also vying for attention was Russia’s continued provocations in Ukraine, a deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the plight of civilians caught in conflicts around the world.
“Not since the end of the Second World War have there been so many refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as he opened Wednesday’s session.
In a rare move, Obama also chaired a meeting of the U.N. Security Council where members unanimously adopted a resolution requiring all countries to prevent the recruitment and transport of would-be foreign fighters preparing to join terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State group.
France has also taken part in strikes in Iraq, and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office announced that Parliament was being recalled to London to debate whether to join the campaign, too.
The Islamic State has made lightning gains in Iraq this year and now moves freely across the increasingly blurred border with Syria. The group has claimed responsibility for the beheading of two American journalists and a British aid worker, sparking outrage in the West and contributing to an increase in public support for military action.
Shortly after Obama’s remarks, France confirmed that Algerian extremists allied with the Islamic State group had beheaded one of its citizens after the French ignored demands to stop airstrikes in Iraq. French President Francois Hollande, who was in New York for the U.N. meetings, said the killing underscored why “the fight the international community needs to wage versus terrorism knows no borders.”
“My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: Do not let this opportunity pass,” Obama said.
Even as the president cast the U.S. as the main driver of peace and security around the world, he acknowledged that his country has not always lived up to its own ideals. He singled out the recent clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the shooting death of a black teenager.
“Yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions,” Obama said. “But we welcome the scrutiny of the world. Because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect.”