President Obama spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday—and what a disappointing speech it was.
He actually scrapped his original speech outline to focus on the controversial YouTube video that many have suggested sparked recent anti-American attacks in the Middle East, including one in Libya that killed a U.S. Ambassador and other Americans. Making this video the focus of his speech was inappropriate. He should have used the international platform to make an unapologetic case for freedom. The President failed the American people—and America’s allies—in five major ways.
1. He failed to give a robust defense of free speech.
In tripping over the YouTube video that was offensive to Muslims, the President seemed to validate other countries’ disregard for freedom of speech:
I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how we respond.
He also admonished people for offending others, saying, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.”
The President probably thought he was being clever, turning the argument around on those calling for restrictions on free speech. But it would not be surprising if there were a number of nodding heads in the audience agreeing that all such “incitement” should be banned. That comment could, and probably will, be interpreted as a backhand endorsement of efforts to restrict free speech like the “defamation of religions” resolutions offered by the Organization of the Islamic Conference in the U.N. and the Human Rights Council.
Heritage expert Brett Schaefer responded that:
President Obama spent less time defending free speech than he did outlining a vague vision for a world with tolerance and diversity as its key ideals. Perhaps this lopsided emphasis sought to reinforce the administration’s dubious claim that only hateful speech is to blame for the attacks on our embassies, but the overall effect was to lend credibility to the notion that governments should be policing speech.
Instead of free speech, the Obama Administration has had a policy of apologetic speech. The Administration supported a U.N. “anti-blasphemy” resolution last year that threatens freedom of speech by condemning any expression that could be deemed “defamation of religion.” The President’s words yesterday continued this weak, apologetic stance.
2. He tiptoed around Iran.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will speak to the U.N. today, but he’s already made his positions quite clear. This week, Iran has escalated threats against Israel and the United States, and Ahmadinejad has said that Israel should be “eliminated” and that a “new order” should emerge, without the U.S. as a superpower.
In response, the President made a “milquetoast statement,” said Heritage’s Nile Gardiner, projecting “a dangerous leading-from-behind mentality at a time when the free world needs bold U.S. leadership.” The President continues to pay lip service to diplomacy with Iran, when the time has clearly passed for this approach.
3. He failed to give Israel strong backing.
Heritage’s Gardiner lamented that “Yet again, Obama drew moral equivalence between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a theme he has frequently expounded upon since taking office.” Palestine continues to edge its way into U.N. organizations, pursuing statehood without negotiating with Israel. The President should have taken a hard line against this. Instead, he made U.S. support for Israel—America’s steadfast ally in the Middle East—a mere footnote in his speech.
4. He did not promote economic freedom.
Heritage experts said ahead of the speech that President Obama should call for “a new era of economic liberalization to expand economic freedom around the globe and ensure that the opportunities of a globalized and interdependent world economy are available to all citizens.” This is the key to raising people out of poverty and giving them alternatives to joining radicalized groups. However, the Obama Administration has failed to increase economic freedom at home or to promote it vigorously abroad.
5. He failed to project American strength.
The United Nations General Assembly is an odd place where oppressive dictators are given the same platform as free nations. It is a unique opportunity to remind the world why people risk their lives to come to America, and to recommit to protecting the freedoms that make that risk worthwhile. As Heritage’s Kim Holmes has said:
We should never allow the U.N. or anyone to abuse the mantra of human rights to undermine our sovereign constitutional system which not only protects our God-given rights and the liberty to govern ourselves but also offers the best model for others to do the same.
No American should speak apologetically about America. Especially not the President.
Heritage and The Hoover Institution will examine Obama’s speech and America’s relationship with the United Nations today at noon ET. Click here to watch it live online.