We learned a great deal about you from your performance at the United Nations on Tuesday, Mr. President. You spoke as the world’s most celebrated technocrat to his colleagues. You do not believe in big ideas such as liberty. You would rather finesse a few little difficulties while papering over big problems.
There were several shocking statements in your speech. You casually dismissed some of our country’s most cherished principles. And you displayed bureaucratic indifference to threats such as terrorism and nuclear blackmail.
“Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents.” Come again, Mr. President? We expect our leaders to sympathize with the dissidents — not brutal despots wrestling with their urges. Your wording suggests that you have experienced similar desires. But it’s comforting to hear you say that it’s best not to crush the opposition.
You have never believed in American exceptionalism. And you don’t want the rest of the world to believe in it, either. “We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values — they are universal values.” The point that you completely miss, Mr. President, is that liberty is the exception rather than the rule. America has been a beacon of hope to people yearning for freedom all over the world. Your technocratic instincts tell you we should abandon that role. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agrees. That’s why he keeps ranting about a new world order.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence would find your interpretation of free speech baffling. “We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened.” No, Mr. President, the Founders did not determine after weighing the pros and cons that permitting freedom of speech was the best course of action. They understood that rights by their very nature belong to the people. That’s why they wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
“Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech.” And yet you seem very comfortable with that, Mr. President. You argue that leaders must accept free speech simply because it is technologically inevitable: “… 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.”
Your defense of free speech is cold and sterile, but your condemnation of those who offend Muslim sensibilities is passionate: “… a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, 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.” The message you are sending, Mr. President, is that our top priority is assuaging those who are quickest to resort to violence.
In fact, you stopped just short of endorsing the view expressed in our Cairo embassy’s press release on the anniversary of 9/11 — a press release that has since disappeared from the Web — that the movie that was alleged to have sparked the protests constitutes an abuse of free speech. You declared, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” You seem to be saying, Mr. President, that those who wish to criticize the prophet of Islam had better do it while it is still allowed. “I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video.” Indeed, you did a splendid job making their case. While you haven’t (yet) proposed legislation making defamation of Islam a crime, you have not been shy about asking Google to pull that video from YouTube, having its creator hauled in for questioning, and seeing him arrested.
You tried to sell tolerance and civility to what you hope is an emerging class of Arab technocrats. “That brand of politics — one that pits East against West, and South against North, Muslims against Christians and Hindu and Jews — can’t deliver on the promise of freedom. To the youth, it offers only false hope. Burning an American flag does nothing to provide a child an education. Smashing apart a restaurant does not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an embassy won’t create a single job.” But the rioters aren’t interested in your campaign rhetoric, Mr. President. They made that abundantly clear when they chanted, “Obama, Obama, we are all Osama.”
Nothing exposes the dangers to your approach more than Iran’s nuclear program. Not only did you refuse to draw a clear red line, you avoided acknowledging what the International Atomic Energy Agency has known for years: Countries don’t bury facilities deep underground and enrich uranium to 90% for peaceful purposes. “America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited.” Unless you have completely surrounded yourself with people who only tell you what you want to hear, Mr. President, you should know that there is less than one year left to stop the central bankers of terrorism from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Mr. President, you believe that what’s needed are more technocrats trained in conflict resolution. But the current crisis can’t be solved in ten minutes, by adopting seven great habits, or by following five easy steps. What we need is real leadership.
Ira Brodsky is a writer based in St Louis, MO.