Obama Evokes Donald Trump's Wall in Final UN General Assembly Speech as President

"We must go forward and not backward," the president said.

ByABC News
September 20, 2016, 12:44 PM

— -- With the world watching, President Barack Obama today took an apparent swipe at Donald Trump's plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, in his eighth and final address to the United Nations General Assembly as commander in chief.

"Today a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself," Obama warned, without naming the Republican presidential nominee.

Obama further cautioning against "the same forces of global integration" that have made democracies interdependent while exposing "deep fault lines in the existing international order" like gaps between the rich and poor created by capitalism throughout the world.

He made two other references to the ineffectiveness of walls in stopping global forces, quipping in an apparent reference to the Zika virus that "mosquitoes don't respect walls" and saying of terrorism that "the world is simply too small to be able to build a wall and stop it from affecting our own societies."

Though he never directly addressed the U.S. presidential election, Obama's message for the General Assembly was in many ways applicable to the impulses raging in the race, citing "a contest between authoritarianism and democracy right now" and an appeal for a top-down "strongman model."

Obama rejected such tendencies. "History shows that strongmen are then left with two paths," he said. "Permanent crackdown, which sparks strife at home, or scapegoating enemies abroad, which can lead to war."

Speaking about the big picture, the Obama recounted the progress made during his presidency, on issues such as the global financial crisis, international terrorism and re-establishing relations with Cuba.

"This is important work," he stressed. "It has made a real difference in the lives of our people, and it could not have happened had we not worked together."

Obama said nations "can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration" or "retreat into a world sharply divided and ultimately in conflict along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion."

"I want to suggest to you today that we must go forward and not backward," he said, although he added that doing so would require nations of the world to "acknowledge that the existing path to global integration requires a course correction."

"The answer cannot be a simple rejection of global integration," Obama said. "Instead, we must work together to make sure the benefits of such integration are broadly shared and that the disruptions — economic, political and cultural — that are caused by integration are squarely addressed."

Obama demanded that democracies of the world "speak out forcefully" for "freedom and dignity."

"A world in which 1 percent of the economy controls the other 99 percent will never be stable," he said. "These are the policies I've pursued in the United States, and with clear results" — touting progress in job creation, cutting poverty, improving infrastructure and investing in childhood education.

His speech came as fighting in Syria has resumed after the Syrian military declared Monday an end to the fragile cease-fire deal that was brokered between the U.S. and Russia just over a week ago.

"Together now we have to open our hearts and do more to help refugees who are desperate for a home. We should all welcome the pledges of increased assistance that have been made at this General Assembly gathering," Obama said. "There's a lot of nations right now that are doing the right thing, but many nations — particularly those blessed with wealth and the benefits of geography — that can do more to offer a hand."

In the same month that North Korea conducted its second nuclear test of the year, Obama highlighted the benefits of free markets over markets resisting influence from globalization.

"We cannot unwind integration any more than we can stuff technology back into a box, nor can we look to failed models of the past. If we start resorting to trade wars, market distorting subsidies, overreliance on national resources instead of innovation, these approaches will make us poor collectively, and they're more likely to lead to conflict," he said.

"And the stark contrast between, say, the success of the Republic of Korea and the wasteland of North Korea shows that central plan to control the economy is a dead end," Obama said.

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