Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday morning was an opportune moment for President Barack Obama. He smoothed out the misspoken “bumps in the road” from his comment about the turmoil in the Middle East that left an ambassador among the dead, a phrase seized upon by his GOP opponents.
It was also an opportunity to assail the Syrian government and its ongoing atrocities; to reiterate his concern about Iran’s nuclear projects and its obligation to the U.N.; and to shore up America’s longstanding ties to Israel.
All in all, Obama was at his masterful best in summing up his foreign policy on the troubled parts of the globe and alerting the world leaders that the assault on America has broader implications.
He said firmly, “America will never retreat from the world. We will bring justice to those who harm our citizens and our friends. We will stand with our allies and are willing to partner with countries to deepen ties of trade and investment; science and technology; energy and development–efforts that can spark economic growth for all of our people and stabilize democratic change.”
But his passionate narrative began with a fond remembrance of the slain Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed along with two other Americans in Libya as Muslims throughout the world were angered by a film defaming their religion and the Prophet Muhammad.
Stevens, Obama said, was “known for walking the streets of the cities where he worked–tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic and listening with a broad smile.”
After extensive remarks on Stevens’ brilliance and commitment, Obama discussed the film that has outraged the Muslim world, terming the video disgusting.
“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,” he lamented. “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.”
Then it was time to recount a few of the recent U.S. involvements in the Middle East. “We intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition, and with the mandate of the U.N. Security Council, because we had the ability to stop the slaughter of innocents; and because we believed that the aspirations of the people were more powerful than a tyrant,” he asserted.
His remarks on Syria were specifically aimed to anticipate the Republicans charge that he was weak on certain hotspots. In Syria, he began, “The future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people. If there is a cause that cries out for protest in the world today, it is a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets at apartment buildings. And we must remain engaged to assure that what began with citizens demanding their rights does not end in a cycle of sectarian violence.”
Furthermore, there was a particularly sharp passage for Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, demanding that his regime cease its attacks on the Syrian people and allow “a new dawn to begin.”
Other important global regions were also addressed, and he noted that the war in Iraq is over and how American troops have come home. “We have begun a transition in Afghanistan, and America and our allies will end our war on schedule in 2014. Al Qaeda has been weakened and Osama bin Laden is no more. Nations have come together to lock down nuclear materials, and America and Russia are reducing our arsenals,” he said.
Despite the seemingly endless conflict, Obama was hopeful that a better day was coming, and it was the action of the people, not the leaders that gave him hope.
Some of that hope, he said, comes from “the American troops who have risked their lives and sacrificed their limbs for strangers half a world away; the students in Jakarta and Seoul who are eager to use their knowledge to benefit humankind; the faces in a square in Prague or a parliament in Ghana who see democracy giving voice to their aspirations; the young people in the favelas of Rio and the schools of Mumbai whose eyes shine with promise.
“These men, women and children of every race and every faith remind me that for every angry mob that gets shown on television, there are billions around the globe who share similar hopes and dreams. They tell us that there is a common heartbeat to humanity.”
It was a clear reiteration of the hope that led him to victory four years ago, and it resonated with a similar conviction and determination.
He concluded as he began, with an emphasis on the strength of the U.S. and the slain ambassador. “The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people, and all across the world. That was our founding purpose. That is what our history shows. And that is what Chris Stevens worked for throughout his life,” he said.