Obama’s UN Speech: On Rhetoric and Actions

By Jim Miles 

After beginning his speech with a nice homespun heartfelt story about U.S. diplomat Chris Stevens, President Obama turned the rest of his UN speech into a series of lies that are all too common in U.S. rhetoric, lies that are concealed by fine sounding platitudes and homilies. Some of the lies are direct, but there are also lies of concealment, avoidance, willful ignorance, and perhaps, genuine ignorance.

The UN
After the introduction, Obama continues by extending his ideas to the UN itself and 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; that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens.

Sounds great, I would buy into it…except for the reality behind the statement. That reality is that the U.S. is one of the countries least disposed to "resolve their differences peacefully." The global spread of U.S. military bases, generally considered to be well over 750, in over 120 countries in the world, speaks differently about "solving differences peacefully." Obama reverses the general trend of U.S. history by saying that "diplomacy can take the place of war" when U.S. policy generally tends to be ‘we’ll threaten and manipulate first and then attack – overtly or covertly – if that fails.’

That trend can be seen in the history of Latin America and Asia in particular, with his later focus on Iran not accounting for the history of U.S. intervention there. In 1953 the U.S. and the UK covertly overthrew the democratically elected Mossadegh government of Iran, with all its decades of subsequent events, in Iran, and elsewhere in the world where the Iranian model of displacing uncooperative governments was put into place, the next in line being Guatemala in 1954 (Operation PBSUCCESS).
Finally, in an interdependent world, such as we have now, the "greater opportunity and security for our citizens" tends to speak for the one per cent, the global corporations, rather than the 99 per cent of the rest of the world.

The Crisis

Obama then focuses on the crisis, the attacks on the U.S. embassies set off by the hate propaganda produced by the Christian right in the U.S.: “we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of the crisis — because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart and the hopes that we hold in common.”

And then, he leaves it at that, there is absolutely no honesty in speaking about the "deeper causes of the crisis" being, in my view, "the forces that would drive us apart." Volumes have been written about the deeper causes of the crisis – to witness, Mossadegh’s Iran and Arbenz’s Guatemala as above, the oil agreements with the Saudi’s after World War II that maintains this bastion of Arabic feudalism to this day, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians under Suharto’s U.S. supported leadership, the unilateral support of Israel without acknowledging its nuclear threats and proliferation as well as its international humanitarian law abuses against the Palestinians, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the ongoing drone wars in Pakistan – a few among the many military interventions brought about by U.S. forces.

Some Real Lies
“We insisted on change in Egypt…. We supported a transition of leadership in Yemen….We intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition, and with the mandate of the United Nations Security Council….we again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop.”

Not true, as the U.S. did and said nothing when the Egyptian protests started and continued, hoping to maintain the status quo of their militarily supported puppet regime. Not true, as the leadership in Yemen remained under the control of the same regime, backed by the Saudi’s. As for Syria, still unsettled business, the suffering could well have stopped before it started if the U.S. and its coalition partners (the Saudi’s, Bahrain, all the GCC countries, all well-known authoritarian governments) were not supplying the rebel groups with armaments but instead worked on replacing war with diplomacy.

“Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with.”
I think I covered this above, but let me add a few more. How about Vietnam and its denial of the UN promised vote on unification and the subsequent killing of millions of people? Or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a bombing that served only to demonstrate to the Soviets that the U.S. had and was willing to use nuclear weapons? Or what about the overthrow of Allende and the autocratic setup of Pinochet in Chile? The ongoing senseless blockade of Cuba? It goes on and on….Haiti, Argentina, Brazil, Grenada, Panama, Honduras, Columbia, Indonesia, East Timor, Laos, Hawaii….
Rhetoric Continues
“And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents.”

Fine, then the best thing for the U.S. to do is be quiet until they bring their military home and stop causing much of the mindless violence and the killing of innocents.

“Now, let me be clear: Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not and will not seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad.”

In modern times, Libya and Syria notwithstanding, perhaps you did not "dictate" the outcome, but overt operations – as in Yugoslavia and Libya and Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan – combined with more covert operations and influences – as in the ‘colour’ revolutions in the Ukraine, Kirgizstan, and Georgia, along with the all the meddling in post-Soviet Russia – have certainly had large effects on populations in those areas.

“A politics based only on anger — one based on dividing the world between "us" and "them" — not only sets back international cooperation, it ultimately undermines those who tolerate it. All of us have an interest in standing up to these forces.”

Whoa horses! (To use a U.S. cowboy metaphor.) "Us" and "them?" Really? Unfortunately Obama has carried forward and improved upon many of the Bush era practices from his statement about being "with us or being with them." Yes, all of us do have an interest in standing up to these forces, while remaining clear with where it originated.

Israel and Palestine
“Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on a prospect of peace. Let us leave behind those who thrive on conflict, those who reject the right of Israel to exist. The road is hard, but the destination is clear — a secure, Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine. Understanding that such a peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey.”

If the destination is clear and you are prepared to "walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey" then peace would already have been achieved. Otherwise, this statement is also a lie. The revelations of the Palestinian Papers by al-Jazeera demonstrated that the Palestinians would go to great lengths to achieve peace; and discussions with most Palestinians show that they wish peace and are resigned to accepting only about 22 per cent of their original homeland to achieve that.

On the other hand, Israel continues to illegally build settlements in occupied territories and confiscate and annex land and resources from the Palestinians. Both Hamas and Fatah have indicated by their actions that they are capable of working towards a peaceful solution. Israel on the other hand has used the "peace process" as a mask to continue with its settlement projects. It also has been the aggressor in most of its wars, most recently with its invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-09, both resulting in large civilian casualties. Israel is content with the status quo, with the its sense of ‘victim hood’ and with the U.S. as ally, its creation of the ‘war on terror’, an unending war that satisfies the political-religious-corporate-warrior elements of both governments.

Next up, Iran
“But just as it restricts the rights of its own people, the Iranian government continues to prop up a dictator in Damascus and supports terrorist groups abroad. Time and again, it has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful, and to meet its obligations to the United Nations.”

Double standards abound here. The U.S. has, and does, and will continue to support dictators around the world as the need fits their geopolitical needs. This is particularly obvious today with the U.S. renouncing the Assad regime in Syria while utilizing the dictatorial powers of the Saudis and the GCC countries to get rid of it. The U.S. is the creator of some of the more egregious terrorist actions around the world, using them as convenient, with al-Qaeda being both an enemy and a special operations task force for them at the same time. "Time and again [Israel] has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful," a not carefully guarded secret that it has upwards of several hundred nuclear warheads achieved outside of the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

“We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace.”

Power harnessed for peace? Is that why the U.S. has about 5,000 nuclear warheads and is creating a euphemistic missile defence shield? Is that why the U.S. says nothing about the Israeli nuclear program, and has assisted the Indian nuclear program?

“And make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy.”

Can’t be contained? Unlike the Soviet Union, which was contained quite well, with their many thousands of nuclear warheads directed at the U.S.? And perhaps now Russia with fewer warheads, but still with the targeting? The Iranians may be a little bit crazy (as all politicians seem to be), but they have demonstrated over the years that they are not idiotic enough, in spite of their often strange rhetoric, to start a nuclear war. Of course the "security of the Gulf Nations" really refers to the security of U.S. control of the region with the aid of the dictators already in place. Ahh, the real answer is at the end, "the stability of the global economy", the corporate elite want to continue harvesting the wealth of the world for themselves.

“It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty.”

Whoa horses (again!)! I am confused. A race has to start somewhere, and Israel had nuclear weapons first, and the U.S. was in the process of helping the Shah with a nuclear program, and the U.S. has helped India avoid the NPT….so where exactly did this race begin? And so who is helping to unravel the NPT?

Universal Values
“We know from painful experience that the path to security and prosperity does not lie outside the boundaries of international law and respect for human rights.”

Now this is true, one of those pleasant homilies that allow the U.S. to feel good about its indispensable self when it castigates then attacks other nations for their own good. It is also obvious that the U.S. has not learned from their "painful experience" as it has always been more painful to others than to them; and they are more than willing to sacrifice many of their own native sons along this path to "security". The U.S. has shown little respect for international law and human rights over the decades, and continues to reiterate this nice homily while using all means – economic and military – to dominate the world.

“But when you strip it all away, people everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes with faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people — and not the other way around.

“The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people and for people all across the world. That was our founding purpose. That is what our history shows.”

Another pleasant homily followed by more illusory rhetoric. Yes, the people of the world want two or three square meals a day, a decent job, a reasonable place to live, and the ability to participate in their indigenous culture. The U.S., while proclaiming that it will always stand up for these aspirations as it was their founding purpose, have demonstrated quite the opposite. It started with the first settlers and their "civilizing mission" among the natives, whom, according to their religious beliefs, were nothing more than heathen savages.

The actions that speak the truth against the rhetoric continued across the North American continent with the genocide of large numbers of native people, spread through the other Americas, then took off overseas with its newly acquired Spanish possessions. Once overseas, it became a global power looking to control the wealth of the world for its own homeland purposes.

Imperial Designs
The leaders of the U.S. empire utilize the wonderful rhetoric of humanitarian principles, universal values, and freedom of democracy to cover the reality of their actions around the world. The unfortunate part is that some of them actually believe their own rhetoric, remaining blind and ignorant to the manner in which it is applied via the military and corporate structures, and wonder why the rest of the world "hates" them. Obama’s speech reflected this in its finest form. He is a strong speaker, a good orator, but is also simply the front man for the power of the nation – the corporate nation – that is interested in maintaining its significant wealth and power differential with the rest of the world.

The United States is the largest military nation in the world. It carries the largest debt problem in the world (with perhaps the EU combined following closely behind). It remains in defiance of all the scientific information regarding global climate change.

This combination of ill health and grand-standing rhetoric does not bode well for the future of the U.S. and the world.

– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

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