Grading the Speech | Obama at the UNGA 2013

Grading opportunities for political speeches abound during the General Assembly’s fall sessions. Consider President Obama’s speech, delivered on 9/24/13.

Writing in the New Republic, John B. Judis gives the President high marks, calling it his most important and “significant foreign policy statement since becoming president.”

That represents a return to Obama’s earlier diplomacy and a repudiation of the idealism and interventionism of the last few years. To be sure, Obama did devote part of his speech to America’s commitment to “the hard work of foreign freedom and democracy” and “supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” but he foresaw doing so by “asserting principles” rather than by intervening in other countries. And if what he meant by “asserting principles” was his criticism of the Egyptian military for measures “inconsistent with inclusive government,” then the authoritarian rulers need not fear an American tongue-lashing. He did urge the United Nations to be prepared to intervene to prevent atrocities within nations, but by assigning this task to the United Nations, he denied the United States a leading role in doing so.

In all, Obama laid out in his U.N. speech a foreign policy that backs away from the policy he embraced in early 2011 during the first months of the Arab Spring. That clearly reflects the lessons Obama took from his failure to win support in Congress or internationally for an attack on Syria. “The United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or public opinion. Indeed, as the recent debate within the United States over Syria clearly showed, the danger for the world is not an America that is eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or take on every problem in the region as its own.”

via Obama’s United Nations Speech Was His Most Significant | New Republic.

Stewart Patrick of @CFR breaks it down, as well, and likes the inclusion of idealistic language:

But the most striking aspect of Obama’s speech was less such particulars than its ethical and moral tone. In the president’s mind, world peace depends on the global advance of liberty, equality and justice. And “though there is no straight line to progress, no single path to success”, he left no doubt that, in his mind, the world is on the right track.

Others, such as Isaac Chotiner writing in the same publication, see the UN speech as showing Obama’s “greatest rhetorical weakness.” And the NPR Truth Squad looks for political lies and mistruths in the talk. And Uri Friedman sees inconsistencies in US Mideast policy-all from the speech.


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