A Moment of Silence
Not what Obama promised in Berlin.
12:00 AM, Jun 23, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
We are told that President Barack Obama has said relatively little over the past 10 days because he does not want to feed perceptions that America is "meddling." Fine. He's being overly cautious, in my view. But let's assume his expressed concerns are genuine.
Why does he seem to believe that he has only two choices: American meddling or virtual silence? Obama ran for president promising to end the unilateralism of the Bush administration. He ran as a liberal internationalist, a multilateralist of the first order--reaching out to everyone, at all times and with no preconditions.
What about a global statement that includes a strong condemnation of the violence and support for the protesters? Not something through the United Nations--we've seen on North Korea how effective its statements and resolutions have been--but a statement signed by the leaders of as many nations as Obama can bring together. It could use language some world leaders have used in their own statements already. The French have condemned the "brutal repression." The Germans have called the violence "unacceptable." Even the state-run newspaper in Egypt (Egypt!) called for more vocal support of the "democratic outpouring" in Iran and criticized the "caution" of the response from the West.
As a candidate, Obama seemed to know how to do this. A little more than a year ago Obama spoke in front of an enthusiastic sea of people in Berlin. But while many people remember that Obama spoke overseas, few remember what he said there, apparently including Obama himself.
Obama used the speech to lay out his vision for a new global order-- "a world that stands as one." He promised a new American approach to the international community and pledged that the United States, together with old allies and the new ones he sought, would meet the urgent challenges of a new century and "remake the world once again."
Among the greatest of those challenges would be terrorism. "This is the moment when we must defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it." The threat, he said, "is real and we cannot shrink from our responsibility to combat it."
He looked to history for an example. "If we could win a battle of ideas against the communists, we can stand with the vast majority of Muslims who reject the extremism that leads to hate instead of hope," he said, imploring the world to "help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East."
He spoke of the "aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please." And he declared: "These aspirations are bigger than anything that drives us apart It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation--our generation--must make our mark on the world."
These tests will not always be easy, he said.
"Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe?" he wondered.
He went on. "My country must stand with yours and with Europe in sending a direct message to Iran that it must abandon its nuclear ambitions."
And: "We must support the Lebanese who have marched and bled for democracy "
He spoke of the "dream of freedom" and declared: "There is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one."
"People of the world--this is our moment. This is our time."
But that was all theoretical. There was nothing to do but sound resolute and receive applause. Obama was a year early. So now that the moment has come, will we stand for the human rights of the blogger in Iran? Will we support those who have marched and bled for democracy? Is it true that this new generation will make its mark on the world in pursuit of aspirations shared by all people? And will the world help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East? Will Obama ask the world to stand as one?
But in the darkest hours, the people of Berlin kept the flame of hope burning. The people of Berlin refused to give up. And on one fall day, hundreds of thousands of Berliners came here, to the Tiergarten, and heard the city's mayor implore the world not to give up on freedom. "There is only one possibility," he said. "For us to stand together united until this battle is won . . . The people of Berlin have spoken. We have done our duty, and we will keep on doing our duty. People of the world: now do your duty.
One can imagine substituting "Berlin" from "Iran" and a future leader remembering this moment.
Obama ended his speech with an appeal to the "heirs to a struggle of freedom."
The scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.
It was a strong conclusion. But it was something that he said moments earlier that stands out now, in the middle of the crisis in Iran.
"Now the world will watch and remember what we do here--what we do with this moment."
Yes, they will.
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.