Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly in New York today, President Barack Obama had the chance to clearly characterize the Sept. 11, 2012 assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya that left four dead including the US ambassador to Libya. The president’s speech followed two weeks in which Obama’s administration has shifted its story on that attack, first calling it a “spontaneous” response to an anti-Islam YouTube video, only to be forced to acknowledge that the assault was a pre-planned terrorist attack. Today was President Obama’s opportunity to get past that indecision in his own administration and hold up the enemy for all the world to see.
But given the moment and the attention of the world at the United Nations, Barack Obama failed.
After reciting Ambassador Christopher Stevens’ work in Libya, Obama said: “Chris Stevens loved his work. He took pride in the country he served, and saw dignity in the people he met. Two weeks ago, he traveled to Benghazi to review plans to establish a new cultural center and modernize a hospital. That’s when America’s compound came under attack. Along with three of his colleagues, Chris was killed in the city he helped to save. He was 52 years old.”
Who attacked the consulate? Obama doesn’t say.
Later in his address, Obama said: “The attacks on our civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America. We are grateful for the assistance we received from the Libyan government and the Libyan people. And there should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice.”
And later: “But the attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America. They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded – the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully; that diplomacy can take the place of war; and that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens.”
Nowhere in his address does President Obama name those who murdered Ambassador Stevens and three other patriots as terrorists. He simply calls them “killers,” implying that their acts were criminal in nature and not acts of war.
Obama does not clearly connect the assault and murders to the Islamists’ war against the United States and the West. When he gets around to labeling any “extremists,” he does so only in vague terms that could apply to a wide variety of groups and interests: “Moreover, there will always be those that reject human progress – dictators who cling to power, corrupt interests that depend upon the status quo; and extremists who fan the flames of hate and division. From Northern Ireland to South Asia; from Africa to the Americas; from the Balkans to the Pacific Rim, we’ve witnessed convulsions that can accompany transitions to a new political order. At times, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of faith, race or tribe; and often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening; in every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask how much they are willing to tolerate freedom for others.”
“Corrupt interests that depend on the status quo”? Who fits that description depends on one’s perspective, and could be anyone from political opponents to teachers unions to communist groups to Russian oil oligarchs to nomadic sheiks to autocrats like Assad or the mullahs in Tehran. The president’s vagueness points everywhere and ultimately nowhere, pulling all the moral punch from the his speech.
This “on the one hand, on the other hand” formulation has been part of Obama’s schtick throughout his entire political career. It lacks force because it lacks factual and moral clarity.
From there, the president returns to one of his favorite subjects late — the YouTube video: “That is what we saw play out the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. 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. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well – for as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and religion.”
These words, from the mouth of a man whose campaign has welcomed contributions from the likes of Bill Maher, serve only to expose Obama’s hollowness. The expression of free speech, no matter how crudely done, insults America? Does not the country that welcomes all religions also not welcome the right to criticize all religions?
Nowhere in his UN address does President Obama clearly express anger at the attack on American sovereignty as such. Nowhere does he show outrage for the desecration of the American flag as the world saw in Cairo and elsewhere. Nowhere does he challenge the Muslim Brotherhood to stop playing two-faced games, denouncing the riots on the one hand and egging them on on the other. When Obama does describe them as attacks on America, he quickly moves to thanking other governments for their help or connecting the attacks to an “assault on the ideals upon which the United Nations was founded.”
This president tends to universalize and preach when a clear, brief statement of anger, resolve and clarity would do. How about just being outraged that on your watch, Mr. President, America came under attack again by the same forces that have attacked us relentlessly for the past several decades? How about saying to them, “Enough is enough” and serving notice that America bitter and unstoppable foe of anyone who attacks us, anywhere, anytime, for any reason?
Is that too much to ask?