U.S. President Barack Obama was clear in his message on Syria, Iran and "Innocence of Muslims" in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday morning, addressing each inflammatory issue in turn before a hall of diplomats including those from the countries in question. Obama left no room for interpretation in his view that Bashar al-Assad must go, Iran must cease the quest that may lead to making nuclear weapons and freedom of speech is an inalienable right.
Opening his speech with a musing on the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens, which was taken in an extremist attack on the U.S. Consulate in in Benghazi earlier this month, Obama took the opportunity to address the ongoing anti-'Innocence of Muslims' protests around the world: He insisted that the "crude and disgusting video that has sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world" is not an excuse for violence and that "it is the obligation of all leaders in all countries to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism."
Obama went on to speak on the importance of the proliferation of free speech, noting that "in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete."
He mentioned the "vendor in Tunisia who set himself on fire" and ignited the Arab Spring, one of the greatest recent examples of the power of cell phones and free speech. "[The U.S.] insisted on change in Egypt. We support transition of leadership in Yemen. We intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition, because we had the ability to stop the slaughter of innocents.
"And as we meet here, we declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end, that the suffering of the Syrian people can come to an end," Obama announced.
He did not elaborate on whether the U.S. would again "intervene," as in Libya, to stop the slaughter of more innocents. He did say that the U.S. "will not seek to dictate the outcomes of democratic transitions abroad;" however, "I do believe it is the obligation of leaders in all countries to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism. It is time to marginalize those who use hatred of America, the West or Israel as the central organization of their policies."
After this not-so-subtle reference to Iran, Obama transitioned into speaking about the Iranian people who "wish for peace and prosperity" but face a government that "continues to prop up a dictator in Damascus, supports terrorists abroad and has failed to prove that its nuclear program is peaceful."
"A nuclear Iran cannot be contained," Obama said. "It would threaten the security of Israel and unravel the nonproliferation treaty. That's why the U.S. will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
Except for those few mentions, Obama otherwise skirted the issue of Israel and Palestine, saying merely that "peace must come from all interested parties" and that it was time to "leave behind those who reject the right of Israel to exist."
"This is a season of progress," he said. "There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies destroying an embassy."
The president took his late ambassador to Libya, an Arabic-speaking moderate who wanted dialogue and peace, as the ultimate example of what he meant by a season of progress. "If we are serious about the future," Obama said, "it will not be enough to put more guards in front of embassies and make statements of regret and wait for the rage to pass. The future must be defined by Chris Stevens and not by his attackers."