Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Obama talks about violence to the UN General Assembly

President Obama devoted the first part of his speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday, which was good to see to a tribute to Chris Stevens, the US Ambassador killed in Libya earlier in September. This is the YouTube of the speech, President Obama Speaks to the United Nations General Assembly 09/25/2012

A summary report can be found at At UN debate, US President urges dealing honestly with tensions between Arabs and West UN News Centre 09/25/2012

I realize these speeches are carefully calibrated to send diplomatic signals through subtle turns of phrase and so forth. So I'm sure there are lots of nuances that I wouldn't notice.

But even allowing for how much international diplomatic runs on inconsistency, I was struck by this: "It is time to marginalize those who -- even when not directly resorting to violence -- use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel, as the central organizing principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes an excuse, for those who do resort to violence."

When some fanatic inspired by crackpot rightwing raving put a bullet in Congresswoman Gaby Giffords' head last year, why couldn't the President bring himself to say that same thing about the domestic fanatics who work hard to create a climate of violence here instead of talking platitudes about "civility"? Yes, it would annoy nutballs like NRA board member Ted Nugent who like to talk sedition and publicly say how nice it would be if somebody were to murder the President. But it might have done some good.

I know hypocrisy is even more routine in international diplomacy than in domestic politics. And the diplomats will not be surprised or much ruffled by the fact that our supposed support for democracy doesn't much apply in Saudi Arabia or Yemen. Not that promoting democratic transitions there would be the best policy for the US, though there is a good case to be made that a consistent support for human rights is highly beneficial despite short-run problems it can cause.

But it would be good for people to be realistic about why not everyone in the Muslim world thinks the US is the greatest country in the history of the Universe, as our politicians of both parties constantly tell us it is. In the Middle East, the US has been seen as the backstop of authoritarian regimes that were and are unpopular. The US position on Israel-Palestine is unpopular in the Muslim world. And our wars and quasi-wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia aren't spreading a lot of love for the US, either, although as in the case of Libya, some people are happier about US intervention than others. I don't know of any evidence that people anywhere are thrilled to have us making drone strikes that kill civilian non-combatants or blast wedding parties.

I'm uncomfortable with Obama's stress on the rightwing film, if it can be called that, "Innocence of Muslims". A lot of Obama's UN speech focuses on that and gave a civics-class defense of free speech. In its domestic effects, the speech really sounded like a rehash of the they-hate-us-for-our-values theme.

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