Obama Sums Things Up
President Obama's last scheduled appearance on his overseas trip was at a town-hall style meeting with students in Turkey early this morning. It's a shame that it will inevitably be overshadowed by his unannounced visit to Iraq, because his remarks (text and video) succinctly reprised several of the trip's key themes.
There was the engagement theme: "I'm personally committed to a new chapter of American engagement. We can't afford to talk past one another, to focus only on our differences, or to let the walls of mistrust go up around us," he said. "Instead we have to listen carefully to each other. We have to focus on places where we can find common ground and respect each other's views, even when we disagree. And if we do so I believe we can bridge some of our differences and divisions that we've had in the past."
There was the lead-by-example theme: "[W]e have to make sure that our actions are responsible, so on international issues like climate change we have to take leadership. If we're producing a lot of pollution that's causing global warming, then we have to step forward and say, here's what we're willing to do, and then ask countries like China to join us.
"If we want to say to Iran, don't develop nuclear weapons because if you develop them then everybody in the region is going to want them and you'll have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and that will be dangerous for everybody -- if we want to say that to Iranians, it helps if we are also saying, 'and we will reduce our own,' so that we have more moral authority in those claims."
There was the good-things-take-time theme: "I was just talking to my press team and they were amused because some of my reporter friends from the States were asking, how come you didn't solve everything on this trip? They said, well, you know, it's only been a week. These things take time and the idea is that you lay the groundwork and slowly, over time, if you make small efforts, they can add up into big efforts. And that's, I think, the approach that we want to take in promoting more peace and prosperity around the world."
There was the good-things-take-time theme meets the I'm-not-Bush theme. Responding to a questioner who accused him of embracing Bush's policies in the Middle East, he said: "I think this will be tested in time because as I said before, moving the ship of state is a slow process. States are like big tankers, they're not like speedboats. You can't just whip them around and go in a new direction. Instead you've got to slowly move it and then eventually you end up in a very different place."
And there was Obama telling the world about America -- his America: "America, like every other nation, has made mistakes and has its flaws. But for more than two centuries we have strived at great cost and sacrifice to form a more perfect union, to seek with other nations a more hopeful world....
"We're also a country of different backgrounds and races and religions that have come together around a set of shared ideals. And we are still a place where anybody has a chance to make it if they try. If that wasn't true, then somebody named Barack Hussein Obama would not be elected President of the United States of America. That's the America I want you to know....
"[I]n terms of my election, I think that what people felt good about was it affirmed the sense that America is still a land of opportunity. I was not born into wealth. I wasn't born into fame. I come from a racial minority. My name is very unusual for the United States. And so I think people saw my election as proof, as testimony, that although we are imperfect, our society has continued to improve; that racial discrimination has been reduced; that educational opportunity for all people is something that is still available....
"You know, the American people are a very hopeful people. We're an optimistic people by nature. We believe that anything is possible if we put our minds to it. And that is one of the qualities of America that I think the world appreciates."
Kevin Sullivan, Michael D. Shear and Debbi Wilgoren write for The Washington Post: "White House officials declared themselves pleased with the five-country tour despite criticism that Obama was rebuffed by European nations on extra spending to boost the global economy and sending more troops to Afghanistan.
"'Why didn't the waters part, the sun shine and all ills of the world disappear because President Obama came to Europe this week?' said David Axelrod, one of Obama's top aides. 'That wasn't our expectation....We understand...that this involves solving the problems, the difficult, thorny problems we face in the world.'
"Obama's advisers said they are satisfied that the president will return to Washington with concrete results, including agreement on economic strategies to battle the recession and a new effort with Russia to reduce nuclear warheads, as well as a less tangible, but still important, framework for improved U.S. relations with the world in the future.
"'There was a sense that America was back. So many of the leaders basically said, 'It's nice to have America back at its place,' ' said White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel."
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