In his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations this morning, President Barrack Obama reminded the UN membership of the purpose of its creation: to demonstrate the value of diplomacy in the resolution of conflict between and among competing interests and challenged each member to speak out strongly against extremism.
Bookending his speech with the bio of deceased Ambassador to Lybia Christopher Stevens, he thanked the people of Lybia who have placed Stevens' picture on their facebook pages, calling him a "friend to Libya" and challenged leaders to do more against extremism than express words of regret for their impact. Stevens had served in the Peace Corps where he taught English and became a friend of North Africa, learned to speak Arabic, and returned to Libya on a cargo ship as ambassador, meeting the people, savouring their foods and working, in his last trip to develop a culture centre and rebuild a hospital in Benghazi before his untimely death at the hands of terrorists. Obama also listed a series of violent incidents sparked by terrorists on the same day as Stevens was murdered, in various countries around the globe in an attempt to paint a picture of the need for all leaders to counter this violence by terrorist extremists.
He used Stevens' life as a metaphor for the attitudes and commitment of the United States to support those who are demanding their freedom in all countries including the Arab Spring, through raising their peaceful voices, and pointed directly to Syria as the issue calling out for public, peaceful protest against a regime that kills its children.
He laid down again his view that "a nuclear Iran cannot be contained" and will lead to a renewed arms race, an end to the non-proliferation treaty on nuclear weapons, and instability throughout the region.
Without using the words "red line" in confronting Iran, he reminded his world-wide audience, including American voters, that America will stand beside any willing to walk the long "and difficult" road toward democracy, indicating the division between the people of Iran and the long and honourable history of their culture and the people in charge in Iran who deny the Holocaust.
Nevertheless, in the face of all the serious challenges faced by all members of the United Nations, he retains his hope, based more on the attitudes and aspirations on ordinary people in various countries, and less on the achievements of leaders.
Although he listed many steps that contribute to the increased access to freedom, liberty and opportunity in many different parts of the globe, as one familiar with the intimate and complex details of many regions, he also reminded his listeners that the notion that information can any longer be "contained" by those seeking to do so, is obsolete.
One individual can now circulate the most heinous message around the globe instantly, inciting others to violence, as evidenced by the most hateful video that has served as a trigger for anti-American, anti-western protests throughout the Islamic world.
And then, referring the United States' tradition and legal support for "free speech" he noted that every day he is called the most horrible of things and yet, he will fight for the right of those saying those things to say them because the antidote to violence and hatred is not repression but more speech, more moderate and more convincing speech and ultimately more impacting speech.
Whether Obama is in the White House for a second term on January 20, 2013, or not is still an open question. What is not up for debate, in spite of the carping criticisms from those on the right, including, sadly, Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC this morning that he has not "made friends" with world leaders and members of Congress, Obama has, without missing a step, continually grown and developed a policy of restraint, of unquestioned respect and of honour on behalf of the United States in every decision he has made on both the domestic and foreign policy sides of his administration. He has articulated and taken decisions that many could not and would not have had the courage to confront: witness both the binLaden raid, and the recovery of General Motors and Chrysler, not to mention the historic Health Care Reform Act, a measure that evaded presidents for a half-century prior to his inauguration.
The world can be, and ought to be, thankful that Obama has been in the Oval Office for the past four years, and, with some concentrated and thoughtful reflection by American voters, he might win a second term. Not holding meetings with individual world leaders, while in New York at the United Nations, and thereby neither favouring one or another country's leadership, is not a sign of weakness as has been depicted by his republican opponents. In fact, this is just another indication of his "restraint" and his private diplomacy. (None of his opponents, or their talking surrogate heads have even mentioned that he hosted two private receptions last night for United Nations delegates!)
Not meeting with President Morsi of Egypt, specifically, could be justified as public disdain for Morsi's failure to speak out against the Libyan assault on the American consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Stevens, although Obama did thank Morsi and other world leaders who, only later, increased their protection of American assets in their respective countries and only later spoke out against the mob violence in Egypt that threatened the American Embassy in Cairo. (Let's not forget that Morsi is a puppet of the Muslim Brotherhood that has taken control of the government in Egypt, and that has not yet found its way to a clear statement of foreign policy, in spite of Morsi's declaration on CBS this morning that Egypt is a friend of the U.S. although Obama did not say so in his most recent public statement on the question.
There are political and diplomatic minefields in all theatres in which the U.S. president has to operate. And promising more "free enterprise" tied to foreign aid, as candidate Romney has done, is not an indication that he is conscious of the complex subtleties of foreign relations, but rather a clear demonstration that he has one "note" to preach...enhance the profits of business, as the footprint he would leave on both a presidency and a term in foreign affairs, should he win in November.
Footnote: The decision by Canada's Prime Minister to reject the invitation to address the United Nations General Assembly, and to accept an award as "outstanding statesman" in the same week in New York city demonstrates not only his pursuit of personal ambition at the expense of his national obligations, but also his contempt for the United Nations itself.
All Canadians are ashamed of this specific decision by the Prime Minister.