Obama declares ‘progress’ in Arab region

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama used his high-profile speech at the United Nations on Tuesday to declare that “this is a season of progress,” but then insisted 26 times that foreigners — including Egypt’s Islamist government — must agree with his priorities.

Obama’s campaign-season claim of progress comes as GOP leaders step up their criticism of his policies.

GOP leaders say those policies have allowed new Islamist governments — and various jihadi groups — to bolster their power from Morocco to Afghanistan, and have spurred a wave of Islamist attacks on U.S., Western and African soldiers and civilians.

Ambassador John Bolton said that the speech showed “Barack Obama’s view of the world.”

Foreign leaders “will see this [speech] as another piece of evidence of the president’s unwillingness to support U.S. interests around the world,” and will continue with their anti-American policies, Bolton said.

“Many Americans are troubled by the developments in the Middle East… and Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons capability. We feel that we are at the mercy of events, rather than shaping events,” Gov. Mitt Romney said in a Sept. 25 morning speech.

“Syria has witnessed the killing of tens of thousands of people. The president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Our Ambassador to Libya was assassinated in a terrorist attack.  And Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons capability” Romney said.

In his speech, Obama acknowledged the turmoil in the Arab region, but blamed it on a little-known YouTube video and insisted the turmoil must stop.

“We must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place… we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence… The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt,” he announced.

However, Obama offered only vague, non-military support to people who risk their lives to spread Western values, such as freedom or speech and the separation of church and state.

“That is the outcome that we will work for  – with sanctions and consequences for those who persecute; and assistance and support for those who work for this common good,” he said.

Obama also downplayed the potential role of the U.S. military in promoting freedom. “The war in Iraq is over, and our troops have come home… America and our allies will end our war [in Afghanistan] on schedule in 2014,” he said.

Obama also blamed the recent riots and attacks in the Middle East on Westerners, not on the competing anti-Western Islamist groups that his 2009 “New Beginnings” policy helped get into power.

Over the last few weeks, “a crude and disgusting [California-produced] video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world… its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity,” he declared.

Obama did defend the United State’s First Amendment for the first time since a Sept. 13 CBS interview.

“Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech,” he said. “Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense… the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs,” he said.

However, he also used his high-profile role to echo Islamists’ condemnation of the little-seen video, which is sharply critical of Islam and its reputed prophet, Mohammad.

“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 said. “It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America.”

“The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” he insisted.

After backing their criticism of the video, Obama then asked Islamists — including some in the audience, such as the new Islamist president of Egypt — to heed the advice of Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu religious leader who helped lead Indian after 1948.

“It is time to heed the words of Gandhi: ‘Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit,’” said Obama.

Islamists believe Hindus are inferior to Christians, and give them few or no legal rights in Islamist societies.

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