These annual UNGA speeches are strange affairs. Typically bland, dull, formulaic, packed with self-important platitudes. No-one cares.
That’s why when a leader says or does something drastically not like that, it gets noticed. The late Col Gaddafi, Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe and Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad all were masters of the provocative in this setting. Here is Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu winning world-wide attention by using a handy visual aid.
President Obama’s UNGA speeches were pretty weak and philosophically incoherent. See this rambling effort from 2015:
Unless we work together to defeat the ideas that drive different communities in a country like Iraq into conflict, any order that our militaries can impose will be temporary. Just as force alone cannot impose order internationally, I believe in my core that repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed … You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas.
Make your mind up man! If you can ‘defeat’ ideas, why can’t you imprison them? And which ‘ideas’ are causing different Islamic sects to massacre each other now as they have done for centuries? How exactly do you propose to ‘defeat’ them?
The Iranian people have a proud history, and are filled with extraordinary potential. But chanting “Death to America” does not create jobs, or make Iran more secure. If Iran chose a different path, that would be good for the security of the region, good for the Iranian people, and good for the world.
What? Who argues that Iran’s stupid chants of Death to America create jobs? Is that the only noteworthy thing to say about them?
In 2012 President Obama even quasi-lied to UNGA to save his own election chances:
And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. (Applause.) There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy …
Note the sly wording. He does not explicitly blame the video for the attack on the Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues. But the strong unambiguous deliberate implication of his words is to create a firm link in the minds of world public opinion between the video and the attack. The post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, deployed to mislead the planet.
By contrast President Putin evinces a certain steely self-discipline on these occasions, as in 2015:
I’d like to tell those who engage in this: Gentlemen, the people you are dealing with are cruel but they are not dumb. They are as smart as you are.
So, it’s a big question: who’s playing who here? The recent incident where the most “moderate” opposition group handed over their weapons to terrorists is a vivid example of that.
This is a powerful swipe at the Obama administration’s incoherent attempts to support groups opposing Assad. Excellent, direct language that gets right to the heart of the real negotiations going on across the region: who’s playing who here?
It’s safe to say that President Trump’s speech marked a sharp break with the Obama years in both tone and substance but not, alas, in length. It weighed in at some 4600 words, delivered over 41.5 minutes. 111 words per minute. Good pace, but too long. He needs a tough-love editor.
To stop this getting overloaded I’ll drill down into what President Trump in fact said in a separate post. To be continued.