Former Vice President Dick Cheney is not happy with President Obama (surprise!). During the president's speech at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Obama apparently compared Ferguson to ISIS and general instability in the Middle East in an effort to address critics who doubt America's position to lead the international fight against terrorism. Obama's speech did not sit well with Cheney, who immediately lambasted the president on Fox News' Hannity, saying "there's no comparison."
As the 69th UN General Assembly convened amid the ongoing battle against ISIS and other military groups, President Obama called on his fellow delegates to join the U.S. and its partners in forming an even broader coalition. He encouraged the renewal of an "international system" to "reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront global problems." Toward the end of his speech, Obama anticipated critics of America's moral standing as an international leader and even "[welcomed] the scrutiny of the world."
In doing so, Obama felt compelled to bring up Ferguson, perhaps the most scrutinized incident in recent U.S. history.
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 – where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions.
Mere hours later, Cheney was lashing out on Obama's speech, telling Fox News' Sean Hannity:
There's no comparison to that with what ISIS is doing to thousands of people throughout the Middle East with bloody beheadings of anybody they come in contact with.... I mean, to compare the two as though somehow there is moral equivalence there I think is outrageous.
While the former VP certainly has a point — just because they both qualify as ethnic tensions doesn't mean they're comparable — his critique of Obama's speech is merely an opportunistic jumping-off place to attack the president's entire anti-terrorism strategy.
Cheney was joined by his daughter Liz on Hannity , where both Cheneys skewered Obama's airstrike campaign as "insufficient." Cheney, with his perma-scowl, called Obama's world view "not consistent with reality" and the two continued to find flaws in Obama's strategy, commenting on everything from his inability to read intelligence correctly, to his questionable decision to use Iraqi and Syrian ground troops, to his strict separation of terror groups and the Islamic religion.
So, in this context, of course Cheney would fixate on such a comparison and use it to his advantage. It's certainly not the first time a Republican opponent fixated on one issue and emphasized it over and over again, deliberately prodding the president's most vulnerable points. (Benghazi comes to mind.)
But if you judge the incident from a neutral standpoint, not with an agenda to poke holes in the president's strategy, it's obvious Obama wasn't actually equating the racial tension in Ferguson with the violent chaos induced by ISIS. He was simply stating that America, too, has its own racial tensions, just like the Middle East does. Obama wasn't suggesting we share similarities beyond that. We have crocodiles and so does Tanzania, but that doesn't make us anything alike.
Regardless, the president did open himself up to easy attacks from opponents. Some of Obama's best characteristics are also exactly what his opponents prey on — his caution and humility as a leader. But there's a time and a place, Obama. If you had been delivering a speech on Ferguson, by all means, speak all you want about accountability and learning from our mistakes. But the subject at hand was terrorism. And perhaps the last thing you want to be when dealing with an enemy like ISIS is soft.
Obama may be known for his sweeping, emotional orations, but he doesn't always have to tie in everything that makes up America's social fabric in every speech. In this case, if he wanted to stop critics in their tracks, all he had to present was concrete evidence of the coalition's success so far.
America's flaws aren't relevant here. And by preemptively addressing them, Obama's dignifying his own critics. What he should be doing instead is confronting terrorism with laser-sharp focus and his head held high.
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