Those who criticize the speech the President just gave before the UN General Assembly should consider that its purpose was not to make a policy statement or even articulate a diplomatic posture. It was intended more than anything an an act of public diplomacy. Knowing that the speech would be carried live in translation to audiences throughout the Middle East, the president took this as an opportunity to speak to the people of the region. He started this second-person “bully pulpit” material with the following:
Imagine what it’s like to be a young person living in a country that is not moving toward reform. You’re 21 years old, and while your peers in other parts of the world are casting their ballots for the first time, you are powerless to change the course of your government. While your peers in other parts of the world have received educations that prepare them for the opportunities of a global economy, you have been fed propaganda and conspiracy theories that blame others for your country’s shortcomings. And everywhere you turn, you hear extremists who tell you that you can escape your misery and regain your dignity through violence and terror and martyrdom. For many across the broader Middle East, this is the dismal choice presented every day.The President then went on to address by turns the people of Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Sudan, and of course the Holy Land.Particular focus will be on Iran, especially given the news of French president Jacques Chirac’s recent statements suggesting that he’s backing away from sanctions.I’ll have more to say about this later. But for the moment, don’t assume it’s a bad thing that we are forced to drop the idea of sanctions, because the Security Council has thus far only protected Iran from facing a real strategic choice — a choice between a negotiated peace and the consequences of its aggressive challenge to the status quo.