UNITED NATIONS – Was Obama’s schedule in New York so demanding there was no time to meet Middle East leaders?
Not even a few minutes early or late in the day to meet with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid a crisis emerging with Iran? Or a visit with Egypt’s new Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, despite the praise Obama lavished in his U.N. speech on the Arab Spring?
After delivering a 40-minute speech this morning to the General Assembly, Obama skipped the traditional State Luncheon headed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, deciding to motor instead cross-town to give a half-hour speech to the Clinton Global Initiative.
At the Clinton venue, Obama decided to focus on the evil of human trafficking – an important issue internationally but hardly a burning campaign topic in his election battle with Republican Mitt Romney.
Referencing the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln during the Civil War, Obama explained how the United States has struggled to make illegal all forms of slavery – including human trafficking in the international slave trade.
“But for all the progress that we’ve made, the bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here, in the United States,” Obama explained.
“It’s the migrant worker unable to pay off the debt to his trafficker. The man, lured here with the promise of a job, his documents then taken, and forced to work endless hours in a kitchen. The teenage girl, beaten, forced to walk the streets. This should not be happening in the United States of America.”
In his 4,000-word speech at the U.N., Obama did not even once mention the word “terrorism” nor did he offer any new practical solutions to a wide range of foreign policy crises, including how the U.S. and its allies, including Israel, are going to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon by simply continuing diplomacy and extending sanctions.
But when it came to the Clinton group and the subject of human trafficking, Obama was long on specific solutions.
“We’ll strengthen training, so investigators and law enforcement are even better equipped to take action – and treat victims as victims, not as criminals,” he said to applause. “We’re going to work with Amtrak, and bus and truck inspectors, so that they’re on the lookout. We’ll help teachers and educators spot the signs as well, and better serve those who are vulnerable, especially our young people.”
If only saving the life of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens had been so easy, Obama would never have had to apologize to the U.N. for a 14-minute amateurish movie-trailer offensive to Muslims that received limited viewing on the Internet.
In speaking to the U.N., Obama made not a single reference to God, yet to the Clinton group, he felt faith-based solutions might help combat the human trafficking problem.
“This coming year, my Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships will make the fight against human trafficking a focus of its work,” Obama said, again to applause. “They’re doing great work.”
He recounted several melodramatic stories – undoubtedly heroic – he reassured two of the victims he mentioned, Ima and Sheila, that he was working in the spirit of Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.
“In the darkest hours of your lives, you may have felt utterly alone, and it seemed like nobody cared. And the important thing for us to understand is there are millions around the world who are feeling that same way at this very moment,” he said with great emotion.
“Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time, and the United States will continue to lead it – in partnership with you. The change we seek will not come easy, but we can draw strength from the movements of the past. For we know that every life saved – in the words of that great Proclamation – is ‘an act of justice,’ worthy of ‘the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.’”
Traffic in New York City was ground to a standstill of cordoned-off streets amid beefed-up security during Obama’s presidential visit.
But there is no worry for a sitting president, who was shuffled off to the 34th Street heliport for a short ride to JFK International Airport, where Air Force One was fueled up and standing ready.
The schedule circulated by the White House assured reporters Obama would be back at the White House by no later than 3 p.m.
The remainder of Obama’s day was free of appointments, apparently so he could rest after a grueling schedule of appearing on nationally televised glitzy talk shows and reading two speech writer-crafted addresses from teleprompters.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t even time for a Broadway fundraiser – but maybe next time.