Friday, July 24, 2009
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON A NEW BEGINNING
June 4, 2009
1:10 P.M. (Local)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. I am honored
to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For
over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a
century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. And together, you
represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I'm grateful for your hospitality,
and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I'm also proud to carry with me the
goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in
my country: Assalaamu alaykum. (Applause.)
We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the
world -- tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The
relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and
cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by
colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in
which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their
own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization
led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.
Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of
Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these
extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view
Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human
rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.
So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who
sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that
can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and
discord must end.
I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims
around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon
the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.
Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress;
tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there's been a lot of
publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I
answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to
this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each
other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed
doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other;
to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be
conscious of God and speak always the truth." (Applause.) That is what I will try to do
today -- to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my
belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces
that drive us apart.
Now part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I'm a Christian, but my
father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I
spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and
at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many
found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.
As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam -- at places
like Al-Azhar -- that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the
way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim
communities -- (applause) -- it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the
order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and
printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic
culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished
music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout
history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious
tolerance and racial equality. (Applause.)
I also know that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to
recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second
President, John Adams, wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity
against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American
Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have
served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses,
they have taught at our universities, they've excelled in our sports arenas, they've won
Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first
Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our
Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers -- Thomas
Jefferson -- kept in his personal library. (Applause.)
So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first
revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and
Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my
responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of
Islam wherever they appear. (Applause.)
But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. (Applause.) Just
as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a selfinterested
empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that
the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were
founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled
for centuries to give meaning to those words -- within our borders, and around the world.
We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a
simple concept: E pluribus unum -- "Out of many, one."
Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack
Hussein Obama could be elected President. (Applause.) But my personal story is not so
unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in
America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores -- and that includes nearly
7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and
educational levels that are higher than the American average. (Applause.)
Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion.
That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within
our borders. That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the
right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.
So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds
within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share
common aspirations -- to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with
dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share.
This is the hope of all humanity.
Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words
alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly
in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our
failure to meet them will hurt us all.
For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one
country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are
at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all
nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are
endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that
is a stain on our collective conscience. (Applause.) That is what it means to share this
world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human
And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a
record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of
their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our
interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over
another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners
to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.
Now, that does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the
opposite: We must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as
clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally
The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.
In Ankara, I made clear that America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam.
(Applause.) We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave
threat to our security -- because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject:
the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to
protect the American people.
The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work
together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with
broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I'm
aware that there's still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But
let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were
innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done
nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people,
claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive
scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These
are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.
Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no
military -- we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young
men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would
gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were
not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many
Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.
And that's why we're partnering with a coalition of 46 countries. And despite the costs
involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate
these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of
different faiths -- but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are
irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam.
The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as -- it is as if he has killed all
mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if
he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) The enduring faith of over a billion people is so
much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in
combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace.
Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in
Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the
next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and
businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who've been displaced. That's why we
are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver
services that people depend on.
Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that
provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that
the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also
believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build
international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. (Applause.) Indeed,
we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will
grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."
Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future -- and to
leave Iraq to Iraqis. And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people -- (applause) -- I have
made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory
or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. And that's why I ordered the removal of our
combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's
democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July,
and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) We will help Iraq train
its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq
as a partner, and never as a patron.
And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never
alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The
fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act
contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change
course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I
have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. (Applause.)
So America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law.
And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened.
The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the
sooner we will all be safer.
The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between
Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.
America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based
upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish
homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in
Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald,
which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and
gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire
Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is
hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews --
is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of
memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and
Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've
endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza,
and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to
lead. They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation.
So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And
America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity,
opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.)
For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations,
each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers --
for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for
Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its
borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other,
then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides
to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and
That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest.
And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and
dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations -- the obligations that the
parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for
them -- and all of us -- to live up to our responsibilities.
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong
and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the
whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full
and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center
of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to
South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that
violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at
sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is
claimed; that's how it is surrendered.
Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian
Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its
people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to
recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to
unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past
agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.
At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be
denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of
continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous
agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to
And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work
and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing
humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing
lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people
must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable
And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an
important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict
should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems.
Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the
institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose
progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.
America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public
what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) We cannot
impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away.
Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act
on what everyone knows to be true.
Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a
responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see
their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the
place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home
for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to
mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) -- as in the story of Isra,
when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)
The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of
nations on nuclear weapons.
This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic
Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my
country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold
War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian
government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostagetaking
and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather
than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my
country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but
rather what future it wants to build.
I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with
courage, rectitude, and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two
countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of
mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons,
we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It's about
preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the
world down a hugely dangerous path.
I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No
single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's
why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations
hold nuclear weapons. (Applause.) And any nation -- including Iran -- should have the
right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it
must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I'm hopeful that all countries in the region
can share in this goal.
The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)
I know -- I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent
years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear:
No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the
people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions
of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as
we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an
unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind
and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal
administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the
people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are
human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)
Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear:
Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure.
Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of
all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree
with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they
govern with respect for all their people.
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only
when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of
others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by
the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your
power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and
participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your
people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without
these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Barack Obama, we love you!
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) The fifth issue that we must address
together is religious freedom.
Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and
Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout
Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we
need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based
upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul. This tolerance is essential for
religion to thrive, but it's being challenged in many different ways.
Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the
rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld --
whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.) And if we are
being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions
between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.
Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always
examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on
charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation.
That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can
Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from
practicing religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim
woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence
In fact, faith should bring us together. And that's why we're forging service projects in
America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That's why we welcome
efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in
the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith
service, so bridges between peoples lead to action -- whether it is combating malaria in
Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.
The sixth issue -- the sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights. (Applause.) I
know –- I know -- and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about
this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her
hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is
denied equality. (Applause.) And it is no coincidence that countries where women are
well educated are far more likely to be prosperous.
Now, let me be clear: Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for
Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we've seen Muslim-majority
countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues
in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.
I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.
(Applause.) Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity -- men
and women -- to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the
same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live
their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. And that is why the United
States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for
girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps
people live their dreams. (Applause.)
Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.
I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and
television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and
mindless violence into the home. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also
huge disruptions and change in communities. In all nations -- including America -- this
change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we lose control over our economic
choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities -- those things we most cherish
about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.
But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradictions
between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their
economies enormously while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the
astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In
ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of
innovation and education.
And this is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what
comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work.
Many Gulf states have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are
beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that
education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century -- (applause) -- and in
too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas. I'm
emphasizing such investment within my own country. And while America in the past has
focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader
On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one
that brought my father to America. (Applause.) At the same time, we will encourage
more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim
students with internships in America; invest in online learning for teachers and children
around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can
communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.
On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner
with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on
Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders,
foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities
around the world.
On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological
development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace
so they can create more jobs. We'll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the
Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on
programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean
water, grow new crops. Today I'm announcing a new global effort with the Organization
of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with
Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.
All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens
and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim
communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.
The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility
to join together on behalf of the world that we seek -- a world where extremists no longer
threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and
Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for
peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all
God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But
we can only achieve it together.
I know there are many -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- who question whether we can forge
this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the
way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort -- that we are fated to
disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real
change can occur. There's so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the
years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I
want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country -- you, more
than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.
All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we
spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an
effort -- a sustained effort -- to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for
our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.
It's easier to start wars than to end them. It's easier to blame others than to look inward.
It's easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we
should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There's one rule that lies at the heart
of every religion -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
(Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples -- a belief that isn't new; that isn't
black or white or brown; that isn't Christian or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in
the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It's
a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.
We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a
new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.
The Holy Koran tells us: "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we
have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."
The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."
The Holy Bible tells us: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of
The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now
that must be our work here on Earth.
Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Legal systems are not rigid and few would support the police tracking down every violation without any regard to the consequences of those prosecutions. It is appropriate to work towards fixing systemic abuses that create a climate and system where torture happens. That has been done, and was a top Obama priority. It's another thing to become so concerned with prosecuting wrongdoing in one area that you lose track of the far greater threats and solutions such as nation building in the Iraq we partly destroyed, peacemaking in Gaza and future Palestinian "two state solution" lands we have allowed to be destroyed with a misguided Israel policy. Obama's election was to many in the Arab world a huge and powerful statement by the US that the Bush policies were unacceptable to the USA people and changes would come soon.
Strategically I think getting bogged down with torture prosecutions will weaken our chances for change there with questionable corresponding benefits.
The key torture issue point: We should proceed with the current Obama policies of "no torture", no renditions, and a slow close of Guantanamo.
In terms of "looking back" I would argue that the GW administration criminal activity never rose to anything like the levels we see in many countries on a daily basis, and I think that is an extremely relevant point when you want to bring in appropriate accountability to past administrations. We want and need a vibrant, accountable, flexible, intelligent, relevant, effective government structure. Therefore I don't think it's in the best interests of the long term viability of the system to focus so heavily on small numbers of policy abuses that remained confined to small numbers of people were generally posing a realistic potential of catastrophic threats. It *matters* that the people who were illegally abused posed potentially catastrophic risk to national security. Although I agree with those including Obama and McCain who say torture comes with a moral hazard so great we should not use it *even if it would provide relevant information* as some interrogation experts believe it does under some circumstances.
However the incidents of torture generally seem to fall into the realm of warfare where all the participants implicitly agree that problems were going to happen. It's functional for a society to apply rules of law to those who hate that system, but it's not functional (in fact it is dangerous) to have more than trivial sympathy for those that seek to utterly destroy it. There is a real terror threat and I'm alarmed by how many people think this is simply a neoconservative fiction. I think the basic anti-power argument leans way too far in the direction of holding Obama to unsustainable standards of behavior where we spend so much money and time preserving the liberties of those who threaten us so dangerously.
Perhaps more importantly I think many executive decisions are complicated and dynamic enough that they should be made using the collective and often kind of messy processes we tend to use rather than by trying to focus narrowly and exclusively on these crimes when there are *millions of crimes* every day, many of which are against completely innocent and vulnerable parties who are far more deserving of our concerns than terror masterminds. This last point is very important, because there is a very odd tendency for people to get so wrapped up in their particular concerns they forget that the whole point of a legal system is to basically protect society from itself. Legal systems protect the overall system - they preserve rights of those who need protection.
Too often people see the legal system / constitution / courts as a way to try to impose their views rather than as a process to make the necessary decisions about how to hold people accountable. Good systems are not rigid - they are flexible and adapt in ways that trend towards functional societies. A great example of this in action is the US long, ongoing struggles to bring racial equality. We've moved from diabolical (yet arguably "constitutional") rules that allowed slavery to affirmative action rules that are now under fire for creating reverse discrimination. In this case and many others there has been huge progress in the direction that supports broader human rights and higher functioning social systems.
As Tim Geitner was pointing out during his congressional testimony about the TARP plan it is always imperative to ask "compared to what" when you are evaluating various options or working to bring systemic accountability.
Critics will always focus narrowly on defects, missing the healthy forest for the defective trees. Judging the functionality of the entire US system based on the fact that policy makers allowed and facilitated the torture of a small number of people is not appropriate. It's certainly appropriate to investigate how this happened, who approved it,, etc, and we're doing that now.
Although clearly we cannot pick and choose the recipients of legal protection I think we should almost always work harder and worry more about protecting little children than terrorists or even just terror suspects. Even though the legal issues are pretty much the same, the police and neighbors will very correctly will work harder to find an 8 year old missing from a playground than a 30 year old man missing from a late night bar crawl. We can't apply all the rules without regard to the context, yet critics love to ignore the terrorism context as if the stakes are much lower than any reasonable interpretation suggests. Even though my personal view is that the moral hazards of institutionalized torture are too high to bear I think those who think otherwise are not evil or psychopathic - they are doing a different moral calculation that suggests different results than mine does.
Why don't we focus on low hanging fruit solutions with huge ROI and little potential for undermining systems rather than the complex, high level abstractions that are the cornerstone of debates over executive branch high crimes, low crimes, and misdemeanors?
Tangential point before people go off on some of the Neoconesque points above: I am discussing torture policy - something I do not think is very important in the broad scheme of things. In my view our bad policy has now been fixed - score a basket for Obama and move on to the economic and foreign policy items that threaten everybody's life and way of life for decades to come.
I'm FAR more concerned in the irrationality and abysmally low ROI of the whole "fight terrorism" and military show which Obama and the new Democratic cabal is continuing with only relatively minor modifications. Our approx 580 billion on defense - some ten trillion over the past and next decade - is mostly money wasted in the pursuit of an unattainable level of security and stability the foolish electorate demands and Govt pretends is possible with more reckless spending in all sectors. This is NOT for the naive reasons the granola crowd has foolishly espoused - basically that we can negotiate our way out of trouble and use love and understanding against the bad guys - rather it's for the practical reason that protecting a life using a tank strategy costs 100-1000x as much as saving one using oral rehydration therapy.
However I'm going to remain optimistic that the Obama Afghanistan policy will bring a lot more butter to bear with the guns we are sending there now.
Personally I have seen little reason (though this is a very debatable point) to think global stability has been enhanced by our spending and arguably the terror biz has thrived far more and been directed at us far more because of our Israel policies than if we'd stayed out of that multi-millenniel mess. Interesting counterpoint was made recently - I think by Zbigniew Brzezinski - that despite lack of stability in Pakistan and middle east, Africa the world was no longer poised on the brink of apocalyptic destruction as we were during the USSR USA cold war. Something that's really been intriguing me lately are the merits of an idea I do NOT subscribe to - that our massive military has in fact stabilized a world that otherwise might have been subject to even more wars and hardships if we'd been isolationists.
The stability-enhancement-by-massive-military-spending case is stronger for the new stability of the USSR USA China connections than for the third world where conditions are often worse in peace time than ours would be in a war. Therefore I remain convinced history will judge the developed world harshly - not at all for our terror and rights policies which are by constrast with developing world exceptional - but for our lack of concern and lack of engagement with the billions who suffer from basic needs. NOT because US capitalism has exploited them and stolen their water and food but because it has *ignored them* and allowed their shitty economic systems and corrupt leaders to keep them out of entrepreneurial capitalism - the only game that is likely to bring them even a modest level of prosperity.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Would the founders have loved this? You've got to bet they would have!
In another exceptional move to open up the dialog between Government and the governed, President Obama will directly answer questions posed online at the "Open for Questions" website.
The White House is Open for Questions from White House on Vimeo.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Yet the flimsy attacks on President Obama typically take a personal form, perhaps because pundits assume Americans can't understand "real" issues. We might expect this drivel from slothy fools like Rush Limbaugh who has built his media empire with the same type of character assassinations he himself deserves far more than those he attacks, but now it's coming from people like Fred Barnes who are really sharp guys:
In an obnoxious piece called "Five Signs of a Flailing Presidency" I expected Fred to point out some of the dubious fiscal assumptions behind the Obama recovery plan, but no. Barnes'
five "signs" are so inconsequential as to be *completely and utterly meaningless*, leading me to wonder if Barnes secretly admires the current policies since his criticisms of them are so timid.
These read as if they are from a Saturday Night Live skit. "President engages in hyperbole" ? News Flash Mr. Fred - that's how Presidents roll, and this one does less than most.
Fake conservatives have a problem with Obama. He's honest, straightforward, and bright. If they make the Obama battleground his personal "faults" they'll lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people faster than you can appear on the Tonight Show. That may be a good thing but it's unhealthy to have an emasculated opposition when you face the greatest economic and international challenges since WWII.
* Fake conservatives don't believe in following the key principles of the founders that should drive true American conservatism: SMALL military, NO religion in Government, PROGRESSIVE foreign policy. Fake Conservatives pretend to want small Government but have supported massive Republican spending for decades.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
The prestigious Party of Lincoln has historically been a bastion of economic sophistication and the principles of the founders of our great American experiment. It has now dissembled into a motley band of knee-jerk economic and social dimwits spewing red baiting nonsense and preying on the new found extreme ideological gullibility of conventional Republicans.
Although I supported Obama for President, I've always shared many of the concerns of American conservatives about the economy, most importantly that massive government spending tends to go wrong and tends to lead to unintended, usually undesirable consequences.
More importantly I very much agree with a cornerstone idea of true conservatives (noting there are few real conservatives left in the USA). We're spending too much now and have been for decades. The founders vision has largely been undermined by both the Democratic and Republican bureaucracy. The founders feared this sort of bureaucratic class would emerge without more citizen involvement and volunteerism than we have.
Ironically the wildly successful American experiment, grounded in the ideas of personal liberty, free speech, and entrepreneurialism created so much wealth that an extremely powerful bureaucratic class developed both in government and especially in the military where we spend more than every other nation combined. Many who call themselves conservatives (but are reckless spenders and therefore no friend of the founders) suggest that big spending is called for in the military, but they haven't done any homework. The founders would not support the massive military and defense spending both parties now tolerate as part of our ongoing reckless fiscal policy.
So, how in the world did conservatism and the Republican party get co-opted by the likes of Limbaugh, Palin, Hannity, and Joe the Plumber? Do people seriously think this parade of fools represents the best America has to offer? These people represent much of the worst in our great nation - hate, opportunism, and hypocrisy to name a few items.
I think much of this lies in the popularity of the "culture wars" where hot button themes like abortion and religion are mixed with politics to incite hatred and divisiveness. Limbaugh and Hannity have made a mint off of of admirers playing on their fears and hate. They are brilliant entertainers and great snake oil salesman, but they are not good representatives of our great country.
It is painful to watch smart conservatives like David Brooks and George Will get relatively little mainstream respect while buffoons like Limbaugh soak up attention, but Republicans are now reaping what they sowed in the last election.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted -- for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act -- not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions -- who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account -- to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day -- because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort -- even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment -- a moment that will define a generation -- it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed -- why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.