Two weeks passed between major speeches by President Obama. On Wednesday, September 9, the President addressed the nation to talk about healthcare. Fourteen days later he addressed the United Nations General Assembly about his vision for the U.N. and for the relationships between nations.
In response to his healthcare speech, I wrote at length about what a disaster I thought the speech was. Of course, there were several parts of his U.N. speech that I disagree with—whether by degree or function. However, I’d like to eschew comment on those disagreeable details today, but rather I wish to show my support, rooted in America’s Core Values, for the general tenor of his U.N. speech.
The United States is, without question, the most prosperous nation on earth today. And despite the fact that we have been victorious in war after war, conflict after conflict, we have taken no land (native Americans need not comment—objection noted). Despite our often-arrogant attitude about our prosperity, no nation is more generous with its wealth than the United States. Whether typhoon or famine; despot or disease, the United States sends more people and more money to nations in need than any other.
Yet, the United States remains the scourge of global public opinion. We, much like the baseball’s Yankees and college football’s Fighting Irish, are easy to resent, to hold in contempt and to hate. What we often hear at home from the lips of leaders worldwide is that the United States is arrogant. The global perspective apparently is that we travel the world cramming our will down the throats of nations gagging on our generosity.
I firmly believe in American Exceptionalism and its first corollary–to whom much is given, much is expected. I am comfortable with our national benevolence because I fundamentally believe it is right to care for those in need. I would not want to live in a country that flaunted its prosperity and avoided its responsibilities.
If the US is guilty of anything it is that we have been TOO generous for TOO long while asking for TOO little in return. We have benefacted the global community in accordance with our founding principles: that all men are created equal and that all people have a right to self-government. We have assumed that the people world-wide share these values and we have acted thusly.
Many nations over the years have objected to US over-reaching, but I have never heard a collection of nations stand up to us. I have never heard a union of like-minded countries advocating a Plan B and insisting we stand down. I honestly believe that if other countries were to ever coalesce their opinions in support of active policy alternatives, the United States would gladly step aside, even if we disagree with those alternatives. The global community has too long taken the easy course of vocalizing their dissent for American policy while benefiting from its implementation.
Now, President Obama is saying, No More: “ Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone…. we recognize that all nations have rights, but all nations have responsibilities as well.” These are sentiments I whole-heartedly share. It is time for those reaping the rewards to accept their share of the responsibility in pursuing peace in the 21st Century. (We should note the odd but, in this case, agreeable dichotomy at work in the President’s global policies. At the same time that he tells the American people that only Washington, D.C., can solve their healthcare problems, he is telling the rest of the world that they must now participate in solving global problems. If only he had as much trust in Americans as in the rest of the world, we might have ourselves a mighty fine president.)
Accountability and responsibility: major tenets of America’s Core Values. “Those nations that refuse to live up to their obligations must face consequences….they must be held accountable”, the President told the General Assembly. It is time for a new model of American engagement, dealing more with leadership than proxy. America will remain the world’s leader: we couldn’t shed this responsibility if we tried. Despite global perceptions, we are the most credible and respected global actor, but our leadership must now recognize the necessity of delegation. Delegation is to OUR benefit (as others share the burden of arms in global hotspots) and the benefit of the world, as they become more invested stakeholders in global outcomes.
President Obama noted that other nations should be allowed to pursue economic growth the same way the US has over the years. It is, likewise, proper that they share the same burdens we bore during our growth.
America is an exceptional place. Exercising humility in entertaining the opinions and efforts of other countries is not a sign of weakness, but is witness to our moral strength which compliments our military strength. I dare say this policy will cause more problems than it will solve, but they’ll be different problems, and better problems. New opportunities will arise out of collaboration. The US cedes nothing in this ambition, but rather gains legitimacy.
President Obama informed the General Assembly, “We’ve also re-engaged the United Nations. We have paid our bills. We have joined the Human Rights Council. We have signed the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals.” Normally I might object to these actions, but if they are intended to demonstrate our willingness to take the first steps in cooperative compromise, then I welcome them. Now Obama must continue to demand the rest of the world steps up (and having someone else—not Israel—carry out the forthcoming bombing of Iran would be a good place to start).
Leadership entails creating opportunities for The Led to grow through experience. The greatest leaders are not those who acted for their charges, but rather those who taught and enabled their charges to do for themselves. Good parenting involves training our children in the way they should go and then releasing them to apply what they’ve learned.
Obama’s speech, perfect by no measure, represents an appropriate, legitimate and strong advance of foreign policy—not just for America but also for the world at large. Conservatives should rejoice that the foreign policy talked about in New York dealt with insisting on individual responsibility and accountability and not with Washington handouts.