Obama Condemns Deadly Mideast Violence, Offers Defense of Free Speech

Obama takes on his foreign policy critics, while Mitt Romney advocates for free markets globally.

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While President Barack Obama condemned the recent deadly attacks in Libya that killed four U.S. State Department employees and largely blamed an obscure YouTube video for the violence, he reminded the new governments of the Arab Spring that freedom of speech is the foundation of a prosperous democratic society.

"In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask how much they are willing to tolerate freedom for others," Obama told delegates at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

"That is what we saw play out the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world."

Most Americans found the anti-Islam video offensive, he said, but that's no excuse for the kind of violence that rocked American embassies in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Pakistan.

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"Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs," Obama said. "Moreover, as president of our country, and commander-in-chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day and I will always defend their right to do so."

Not only is support for freedom of speech the just course of action, Obama said, it's also inevitable in the modern world.

"I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech," he said. "But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone 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offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete."

Addressing the now routine terrorist attacks against Americans in the Middle East, Obama sought to address the economic uncertainty that he sees as the root cause of Islamic violence against the United States.

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"Burning an American flag will do nothing to educate a child. Smashing apart a restaurant will not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an embassy won't create a single job," he said. "That brand of politics only makes it harder to achieve what we must do together—educating our children and creating the opportunities they deserve, protecting human rights, and extending democracy's promise."

Addressing criticism from Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney, Obama sought to offer assurances to global leaders that the United States was doing everything it could to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

"America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited," he said.

Obama ended his speech with phrasing more often associated with Republican politicians, highlighting the "dignity" of work, the "comfort" of faith, and the "justice that exists when governments serve their people—and not the other way around."

Romney, who made remarks before the Clinton Global Initiative also on Tuesday, said in order for the United States to assert itself as a stronger world leader it must modernize its foreign aid efforts by leveraging private capital and taking steps to build free market societies in developing nations.

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"The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise," Romney said. "Nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America's own economy—free people pursuing happiness in their own ways build a strong and prosperous nation."

As president, Romney said he would work to "identify the barriers to investment, trade, and entrepreneurialism in developing nations."

"In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights," he said.

Romney said re-negotiating trade pacts and opening new markets to the United States would benefit both Americans and the world.

"As the most prosperous nation in history, it is our duty to keep the engine of prosperity running; to open markets across the globe and to spread prosperity to all corners of the earth," he said. "We should do it because it's the right moral course to help others. But it is also economically the smart thing to do."

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.

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