NEW YORK – President Barack Obama is addressing the United Nations as a commander in chief overseeing a war against militants in two Middle Eastern nations, a striking shift in the trajectory of a presidency that had been focused on ending conflicts in the region.
Instead, when he speaks to the world body Wednesday, he will cast the U.S. as the linchpin in efforts to defeat Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, officials said. After weeks of launching strikes against militant targets in Iraq, Obama extended the military action into Syria on Monday, joined by an unexpected coalition of five Arab nations. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates joined the U.S. in carrying out airstrikes, while Qatar played a supporting role.
The partnership with Arab countries marked a rare victory for Obama during a tough stretch in which his foreign policy has been challenged not only by the Middle East militants, but also Russia’s provocations in Ukraine and an Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Officials said Obama will also address ways the U.S. has sought to mobilize international action to resolve the Ukraine and Ebola crises as well, including getting deepening economic sanctions on Russia and dispatching 3,000 U.S. troops to West Africa to help deal with the Ebola outbreak.
But the growing U.S. military role in the Middle East will be the centerpiece of the president’s sixth address to the U.N. General Assembly. It comes at a time when Obama had hoped to be nearing the end of the second of the two wars he inherited in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Instead, the U.S. is plunging back into military action in Iraq, as well as Syria, where Obama long has tried to avoid involvement in a bloody civil war now in its fourth year. The airstrikes were aimed at not only Islamic State targets but also a new al-Qaida cell that the Pentagon said was nearing the “execution phase” of a direct attack on the U.S. or Europe.
Obama will also hold his first one-on-one meeting Wednesday with new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who took office earlier this year.
Later Wednesday, the president will convene an unusual meeting of the U.N. Security Council during which members were expected to adopt a resolution that would require all countries to prevent the recruitment and transport of would-be foreign fighters preparing to join terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group.
However, Obama administration officials have acknowledged that U.N. resolutions can be notoriously difficult to enforce.