Today was a real special day in the annals of the UN. One of those days when words and body language assume significance far beyond and above one speech. Such was the case with the President of Brazil, who went after the US in reference to the NSA fiasco in a way which may be remembered for more than a few days.
It is Brazil, an emerging world power, and not just in soccer -- a nation of 200 million proud people, one of the countries which will play a major role in world politics and trade in the current century. The words and demeanor of the Brazilian president left no room for any doubt, as she ferociously attacked the NSA aberration. Yes, the late Hugo Chavez had his moments of rage, whether manufactured or real, but then, Venezuela is not Brazil...
It was surprising therefore to listen to President Obama's speech, which was almost exclusively devoted to the Middle East, as if there is a peaceful, complacent world outside of the Middle East, which is surely not the case. No need to speculate too much as to the offense which is bound to be felt in Brazil as well as rest of South America, Africa and other troubled parts of the world which were not mentioned at all. So, words can be of major significance, but also the lack thereof is important. Whether the president meant the omission of reference to most of the world to be a signal of one kind or another is not clear, but it seems that if it was just benign neglect, it still carried a message. And there were other messages with what was NOT said.
Let us start with the comment on the atrocities in Kenya and Pakistan. They were mentioned, duly condemned, but it was left for the listeners to decide who actually committed these atrocities. The identity of the criminals is well-known, they are Islamic Jihadists, whether affiliated with Al-Qa'ida or not. Calling them by name is NOT an attack on Islam as a religion, or on the vast majority of Muslims, who surely abhor the horror scenes which are perpetrated by people who speak in the name of Islam.
Not mentioning this is very wrong, exactly because the terrorists DO NOT represent the true meaning of Islam. Clearly, Islamic leaders everywhere, including in the US, need to stand behind every podium and express their revulsion, but that should not exempt the leader of the free world from fulfilling his duty and call the criminals by name, so that no doubt should exist that indeed there is a war going on these days between ELEMENTS of the Islamic world and the rest of humanity, including MOST of the Muslim believers themselves.
While in Pakistan these were Christians who were savagely murdered in their house of prayer, and in Egypt Christian churches are burnt to the ground, in Malaysia where there are maybe a few thousand Shi'ites in a population of 17 million Muslims, they are outlawed and the teaching of their theology is forbidden, and in so many other parts of the Muslim world, these are innocent Muslims, whether Sunnis or Shi'ites who are slaughtered by the thousands.
Then there were some words missing in the talk about Syria and Iran. While the president amplified a concept, which may well be the new Obama doctrine, about the US obligation to prevent atrocities, even in countries where there is no direct and immediate American interest, such as Libya, he fell short of linking this very concept in any concrete way to Syria, where both Alawites and Sunnis commit ethnic cleansing against each other, and the numbers of casualties rise dramatically.
This is not to suggest that Bashar Assad can feel himself completely off the hook, but a clear, unequivocal message from President Obama was in place. Some words were also missing with regard to Iran. The positive message towards newly-elected President Rohani was in place, and it is NOT a sign of weakness to show a smiling face when one is shown from the other side. In this context, some Israeli reactions expressing alarm at the very notion of talks with Iran are exaggerated and surely premature. That said, the commitment to prevent Iran from developing its nuclear program, while mentioned, lacked any specifics. It may be that the president, for obvious reason, tries to shy away from getting trapped again with "red lines," but the confusion about the Syrian "red lines" should not lead to any confusion with regard to Iran.
An Obama speech is always a good tutorial to those who want to excel in the art of public speaking, but it should also be a clear signal to vicious terrorists, whose identity is clear, as well as dictatorial regimes.