WASHINGTON – In an otherwise good UN speech (September 24, 2014) focused on the need to fight for international law while combating militant groups and terrorists, President Barack Obama could not resist the temptation to say something negative about America.
We are not perfect
The objective –I suppose– was to show the world that, while we Americans pursue noble goals, we also humbly acknowledge our shortcomings. Alas, we are a still imperfect society. So, we are not preaching on the basis of arrogant self-righteousness. We would like to pursue good and lofty goals of world peace and justice, but we also recognize that in many instances we fail to live up to our ideals.
While in principle this attempt at even handedness may not be bad, the example picked by Obama to illustrate America’s frailties was totally inappropriate.
Speaking from the UN podium to senior representatives of the entire world gathered there for the annual General Assembly, Obama had this to say:
“I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within its own borders. This is true. In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri –where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions we hold dear”.
Let me start with the obvious. To place in the same sentence the killing of one Black American young man (Michael Brown) by a White police officer, (no doubt a tragedy), and the daily slaughters perpetrated by ISIL, Assad and other in Syria and Iraq, along with the war of aggression sponsored in Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a really bad idea.
This will encourage people around the world to say: “Hey, there are problems in the Middle East. But there are also problems in America. They may not be the same. But they are very close in size and scope, as the President of the United States himself had to admit while speaking to the world from the podium of the UN General Assembly.”
America just as bad
Let me say this again. To place in the same context the killing of one individual in Ferguson and the murdering of tens of thousands by lawless fanatics in the Middle East gives precious ammunition to all those who hate America. It legitimizes stupid and meaningless comparisons and moral relativism: “Assad bad. ISIL bad. Putin bad. But America also bad. US President Barack Obama himself said so”.
Offering an opinion on a pending case
And there is more. Even though he did not get into any details, Obama clearly indicated that the Ferguson killing is evidence of something deeply wrong in America.
By giving this characterization, Obama did something totally uncalled for. He essentially sided with all those (in America and abroad) who believe, based on what they have seen or heard, that the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson is yet another instance of White police criminal brutality.
We know that within the Black Community and beyond the prevailing, even if yet unproven, narrative about Ferguson is that an unarmed Black young man was killed in cold blood by a White police officer, even though (allegedly) he had raised his arms, clearly indicating that he had surrendered. (The police officer claims that he was attacked by Brown, and that he shot him in self-defense).
That said, Obama knows that the case is still pending. Therefore, for the President of the United States to publicly discuss it, while letting the whole world understand what he thinks about it, is really uncalled for.
No trial, no conviction
President Obama, with his Harvard Law Degree, should know better. He knows that the case is still before a Grand Jury. In the end, the White police officer who shot Michael Brown may or may not be indicted. Still, even assuming that he will be indicted, (usually Grand Juries tend to err in favor of indictments), there has been no trial and no conviction.
In other words, our own American justice system has not yet decided what happened and whether or not the police officer committed a crime.
But, by saying that the killing –of course– caused a totally understandable rage within the Black Community, President Obama told the world what he thinks about the sad incident. Once again, the President of the United States should have never mentioned this incident in the course of a UN speech, as the case is still pending.
Obama’s own words will be used by America-haters
Now, to place these “Ferguson remarks” uttered by Obama in context, we should recognize that they were only one paragraph in a much longer speech about terrorism, Russian aggression in Ukraine, and a lot more.
Fair enough. And yet, as these words uttered by the President of the United States are part of the official record, they will be cited, (of course out of context), by all those who argue that America, despite its lofty rhetoric, is in fact a truly bad place where racism is rampant. So much so that White policemen (routinely?) shoot unarmed Black kids at will. The US President himself said so.
Is this the image of America that President Obama wants to convey to the world?