President Obama spoke Wednesday to the United Nations General Assembly in his annual foreign policy address to the world body. Speaking after the Brazilian president but before Uganda’s leader, Obama spoke for 31 minutes on Russia, Asia, Ebola, Iran and climate change.
Eighteen minutes into his speech, Obama mentioned ISIS. Then, he went on to talk about “violent extremism” (he never mentioned “Islamic extremism”). But after talking about terrorism and “taking action against immediate threats,” Obama transitioned to calling out America’s “failure” and “our own racial and ethnic tensions” in “the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri.”
While humility and self-reflection are admirable leadership qualities, equating the burglary-turned-shooting death in Ferguson with ISIS killings and beheadings was a big mistake.
In the sentence right before President Obama’s Ferguson comment in front of 191 other countries, the president said, “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 . . .”
Morally equating the events of Ferguson to Islamic terrorism and Russia’s annexation of Crimea gives foreign diplomats from Arab countries and Russia the excuse they need to dismiss America’s condemnation of their actions.
For anyone thinking that President Obama didn’t purposefully mean to equate the world’s problems with the events in Ferguson, two sentences later Obama blamed globalization for the public’s outrage in Ferguson: “And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization…”
Overstating America’s issues doesn’t make us relatable; it makes others’ issues easily dismissable.