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Dr. Charles G. Cogan Headshot

A Glaring Omission in Obama's UN Speech

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A few days ago, an Arab leader described to me the U.S. Government's policy in the Middle East as "delusional." A well-placed friend of mine in Washington described President Obama's September 21 speech to the United Nations General Assembly as "obscene."

I decided to look into the speech myself. What leapt out at me was the mention of Israeli casualties and the non-mention of Palestinian casualties. Here is what the president said about the former:

Israel's citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel's children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at the world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off the map.

Here is an excerpt of what the President said about the latter:

One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves.

Nothing about Palestinian casualties. Let us reflects back on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the December 2008-January 2009 counterattack to the rockets landing on towns in southern Israel, which did not cause many casualties but much fear. Palestinian casualties in the Gaza campaign amounted to between 1,166 and 1,417, and Israeli casualties to 13, four by friendly fire.

One can only wonder at the glaring omission in the President's speech. Was this an oversight? Was it intentional? It is difficult to believe that someone as sensitive and finely-tuned as Obama would not have noticed this omission, unless one or more of his advisers persuaded him not to mention the Palestinian side of this issue.

In the aftermath of the President's speech and the threatened U.S. veto of a Palestinian state in the United Nations Security Council, U.S. credibility in the Middle East is now at its nadir. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser, had this to say on Bloomberg Television over the past weekend:

If the [Israeli-Palestinian] issue continues to fester, the Middle East will become more anti-American. We are in the process of being pushed out of the role as a power broker in the region, and eventually Israel is going to be fatally threatened if peace is not achieved.


Charles Cogan was the chief of the Near-East South-Asia Division in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA from 1979 to 1984. He is now a historian and an associate of the Belfer Center's International Security Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.