An appropriate speech—for a UN secretary general, not a U.S. president

Interesting how columnists elsewhere in the Anglosphere are more often more critical of America’ alien-in-chief than “conservatives” in the U.S., suggesting that they feel the loss of America as the tribune and leader of the West more than Americans do. Here is Peter Worthington in the Toronto Star:

The trouble with U.S. President Barack Obama’s boffo speech in Cairo to the Muslim world was not what he said—but that he said it.

To explain: The content was generally fair, rational, evenhanded and fitting for a moderator, arbitrator or neutral adjudicator.

But that’s not what Obama is. He is, or should be, the embodiment of his country and its interests. When he appoints himself the go-between who sees all sides and takes no sides—who chastises all conflicting parties equally and impartially—he does a disservice to himself, his country and to truth.

His speech has generally been applauded. Superficially, at least.

But on reflection it was arrogant, condescending. A “father knows best” speech of moral and practical equivalency.

It was a speech that the world’s moderate middle could relish and feel good about. But it was also a speech unlikely to appease extremist factions of any side. A speech that simply didn’t ring true in many ways.

All civilizations are not equal. All cultures are not equal. Some are more benign than others, some more lethal. Some crueler and less deserving of tolerance.

Fine for Obama to stress the tolerant, benign nature of Islam, but whatever it was in the past it is not that tolerant or benign now—and I’m not thinking of 9/11, or suicide bombers, or its bigotry towards women. Sunni and Shiites often cannot tolerate each other, and kill over the issue of who are the true followers of Mohammed.

Avoiding the word “terrorists,” Obama chose the gentler word “extremists”, which clouds what he’s saying and softens the impact.

He slighted America by failing to mention that after 9/11, his countrymen showed remarkable generosity and grace by rejecting reprisals against Muslims and, in fact, going out of their way to absolve Muslims of blame.

There was nothing resembling the flavour of internment camps that were imposed on Japanese-Americans in the early days of the Second World War, when hysteria reigned.


By his laboured impartiality, Obama seemed to imply that before his coming to presidential power, America was somehow lacking, negligent or derelict in generosity and decency. Nothing could be further from reality.

Stressing America’s “unbreakable” bonds with Israel while pledging “we will not turn our backs” on the “intolerable” situation of Palestinians who endure “the daily humiliations that comes with occupation” is grotesquely misleading.

Good politics if it works, and effective diplomacy, but it’s dishonest. Until the Arab countries attacked Israel in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were “occupied” by Egyptians and Jordanians.

In his series of speeches around the world, Obama seemed intent on denigrating his own country by apologizing to other countries for its actions. Now he is setting himself up as the arbitrator and source of all wisdom in dealings with the Muslim world.

If he were UN secretary general rather than the president of the United States, his efforts might be more appropriate. But he isn’t. Yet.

At least the Toronto Star is an Obamaniac—witness its headline: “A speech that might change the world.” Hmm. Wanna bet?

Hardliners around the world are unlikely to buy Obama’s message. How he handles the next terrorist incident will be his big test.

Test of what? Of Obama’s will and ability to defend America? But as Worthington himself has already pointed out, Obama does not see himself as representing America and does not aspire to that role. He sees himself as, and aspires to be, a global figure standing outside America, like the UN secretary general. Would Worthington say that the next terrorist attack on America will be the big test for the UN secretary general?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 06, 2009 10:15 AM | Send

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