President Obama addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York on Tuesday morning, and while there were a few moments when he at least talked a good game on free speech, there were also moments that left much to be desired on that same front and on the real nature of the root causes of unrest in the Middle East.
Here are some key excerpts (you can read the full prepared remarks here):
But the attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America. They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded – the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully; that diplomacy can take the place of war; and that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens.
If we are serious about upholding these ideals, it will not be enough to put more guards in front of an Embassy; or to put out statements of regret, and wait for the outrage to pass. If we are serious about those ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of this crisis. Because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart, and the hopes we hold in common.
Today, we must affirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens, and not by his killers. Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations.
So far, not bad. But then, for some reason, the president felt the need to bring in, criticize, and apologize for the YouTube video that we’re to believe was the catalyst that sparked these inexcusable recent events — even though, really, that video is not what any of this is or should be about at all, and I’m not really sure why it’s something the president feels the continual need to explain away.
That is what we saw play out the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well – for as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and religion. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion – we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe. We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.
I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we disagree with.
Again, not a bad rundown of our free-speech values, but if we believe that all people have a right to express their views, even ones with which we disagree, why are we still talking about this dumb video? The video is not the point. The Obama administration has already had to revise their original version of the chaos in Libya and labeled it as the terrorism that it was, but President Obama conspicuously failed to mention terrorism in relation to Libya in his speech. Why do I feel like this was a speech designed to sound so-so on promoting our American values but simultaneously pander to the people who would criticize us for them? There was an opportunity for a real display of strength and courage here in the wake of all of this unacceptable violence, and the president declined to take it.
Here’s a reaction from former UN Ambassador John Bolton: