It’s not that Obama thinks that the Prophet Mohammed ought to be maligned by a filmmaker who uses tons of aliases and was once busted for PCP. There’s a principle at stake, he told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday morning: “Our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened.” The calls for censoring the video emanating through the Muslim world are ultimately futile, as well: “When anyone with a cellphone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.”
True enough. But his administration’s response to the video and the anti-American protests continues to whipsaw. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted condemnations of the film on September 11 and stuck by them as mobs outside stormed the embassy gates. Obama basically deleted those tweets in his speech. He challenged offended Muslims to “also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.” And Obama dismissed the idea that the anti-Islam film was the true cause of this month’s assaults on U.S. embassies, locating it in “intolerance” instead. Even Obama critics like Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol conceded that the president’s speech was “conventionally unobjectionable.”
But it was also, at the least, unmoored from the way Obama previously handled the crisis. “If we are serious about upholding these ideals, it will not be enough to put more guards in front of an embassy; or to put out statements of regret, and wait for the outrage to pass,” Obama said. “If we are serious about those ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of this crisis.”
Obama’s United Nations speech was another indicator that his administration’s approach to this month’s anti-American violence is under revision. First the administration attributed the deadly assault on the Benghazi consulate to mob violence; then to a terrorist attack; and Obama declined to attribute blame for it at Turtle Bay. That might be fairly chalked up to the fog of war. But information doesn’t just want to be free, it wants to be accurate. And it should lead to a consistent response.