President Barack Obama carried out his annual duty to address the United Nations General Assembly with a ringing affirmation Tuesday of American principles and intentions.
Some heads of the 193 member countries wrinkled their noses that Mr. Obama left to Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton the bilateral meetings with key leaders that are usually part of the president's U.N. visit to New York. He has chosen, instead, to concentrate his energies on his quest for re-election. His speech, nonetheless, was both pertinent and eloquent on the global situation and showed no disassociation from international concerns.
He led with a tribute to late U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, calling him "the best of America" and describing him as "deeply invested in the international cooperation that the U.N. represents." Mr. Obama then addressed what he called the "deeper causes of this crisis," asserting that "violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations."
In response to criticism of the U.S. position favoring change in Egypt, he said that "our support of democracy put us on the side of the people." Harking back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 Atlantic Charter, he pointed out that "freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture," but pledged, with reference to U.S. efforts to export its form of government, that "the United States has not, and will not, seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad." The latter statement was a stunning and timely affirmation of U.S. intentions of noninterference in the affairs of other countries, particularly in the Middle East.
Mr. Obama then turned to the subject of the video attacking the Prophet Muhammad that has produced turmoil across the Muslim world. He called it "crude and disgusting." He referred to U.S. respect of free speech, but added that no speech justifies mindless violence. He cited what he saw as joint global objectives of educating children, creating the opportunities they deserve, protecting human rights and extending democracy's promise.
The president reiterated goals of "a secure, Jewish state of Israel; and an independent, prosperous Palestine" and a "united and inclusive" Syria, and he stressed that diplomacy would continue to be at the core of the U.S. approach to Iran. He added, however, that "the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," a clear warning to the Tehran regime.
Mr. Obama's words overall were a reiteration of American principles, focusing particularly on developments and U.S. policy in the Middle East. The speech was appropriate to what apparently will be the focus of this U.N. General Assembly session and it provided some signals as to how a second-term Obama foreign policy might look.