Getting Tough, Being Clear: Obama’s Call Outs at the UN General Assembly

September 24, 2014

For more on this post, listen to Alan Kelly on SiriusXM POTUS 09-24-14

If Barack Obama had one job to do today in his address to the UN General Assembly, it was to get tough and speak plainly.  Not only on ISIL, Vladimir Putin, and climate change, but on his audience of diplomats.  Obama ran plays (see illustration below) that seemed not entirely out of place for the reluctant leader but more in keeping with a barking Teddy Roosevelt or a trust-but-verify Ronald Reagan.  In New York this morning, Barack Obama was decidedly on the offense, pulling from his cast of public characters the role of the brooding father, ready to spank.

Obama Plays at UN 2014Most notable were his Labels on ISIL.  They’ve perverted a great religion, Obama brayed.  They’re a cancer of violent extremism, ravaging the Muslim world.  He set the scene of his speech with Screens, recalling everything from the global financial crises to his grandmother’s Aftrican village.  He used Fiats to underscore his authority, flatly pledging that the U.S. will take action against threats.  And he ran Challenges, beseeching his fellow global leaders to work together: “Join us for the sake of our children.”

These plays might be expected of Obama; he typically sticks to the middle of the influence spectrum.  But where he changed his pattern was in his cutting Call Outs on Vladimir Putin and ISIL.  Blood is on your hands, you bully, he all but said to his Russian counterpart, referring not only to The Ukraine conflicts but of the downing of Malaysia Flight 17.  And as for ISIL, he was sure to point out, “Extremists cannot grow or build anything.”  You’d almost think the president was running a calculated Bait.

To preempt calls of American hypocricy, Obama was sure to run freezing plays.  First, a  Disco: “Yes, the U.S. has its own racial tensions,” he conceded with a nod toward Ferguson, MO.  And then a Lantern: “Rejecting sectarianism is a generational task,” he admitted, all to set expectations for a long-haul war on ISIL.

Perhaps Obama’s most poignant passage was his appeal to Muslim youth.  By way of a Bear Hug + Recast combination, he flattered their religion as a “great tradition” then cautioned that its roots in education should not be traded for ignorance or that its reverence for life should not be sullied by murder.

If it’s Teddy or Reagan Americans miss, Barack Obama did well.  Few other speeches by this president have displayed such simmering determination, almost anger.  His playbook guaranteed it, particularly with the aforementioned Call Outs and Fiats that erased Obama’s signature ambiguities.

Post by Alan Kelly