Introduction

The end of the Cold War (1947–1991) ushered in a new era in international relations and raised the question of how the United States should deal with the post-Cold War world. Like his immediate predecessors, President George W. Bush argued that the United States should promote democracy for America’s sake and for the benefit of the world. This included a global struggle against the people and ideas that sponsored the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. No less committed to protecting the United States and promoting democracy, President Obama sought a different approach to Islam and less commitment overseas. Senator Rand Paul dissented from the consensus that he argued included both Bush and Obama. Denying he was an isolationist, Paul argued for greater restraint politically, militarily, and financially than he felt recent administrations of either party had shown.


“Remarks by the President On a New Beginning,” Archived White House Website, Obama Presidential Library. https://goo.gl/YXTuJU and https://goo.gl/fZQGRp


. . . 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. . . .

. . . [H]uman 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. . . .

. . . [L]et me speak as clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

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. 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 President next discussed Palestine, and nuclear proliferation.]

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. . . . No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation on 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.

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. 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.

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 Cordoba1 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. . . .

The sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights. I know – [applause] – 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. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous. . . .

I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. 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 microfinancing that helps people live their dreams.

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.
. . .

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. . . .

. . . 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. 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.”2 The Talmud tells us: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.”3 The Holy Bible tells us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”4 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.

Study Questions

A. Do Obama and Bush represent a consensus? If so, in what ways do they agree? How do they differ? Does Paul succeed in outlining a foreign policy that is more restrained than the policy of either Bush or Obama but is not isolationist?

B. Compare the speeches of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to those of Senator Albert Beveridge and Henry Van Dyke. In what ways are the attitudes and ideas in these speeches similar or different? How does each of these men understand the role of human agency and the power of ideology in moving “history” forward?

C. Consider the issues raised by the texts here in light of the views of America’s place in the world expressed by those who colonized America and those who participated in the American Revolution. How do the arguments of Bush, Obama, and Paul compare with those made about war with Mexico?

Footnotes

  1. Cordoba was the seat of government for the Muslim rulers in Al-Andalús (the area in present-day Southern Spain known as Andalusia). During the 9th and 10th centuries, it was known as a center of learning where Jews and Christians were tolerated.
  2. Koran 49:13. The use of the article “a” before “female” seems to be a translation error. Compare the various translations offered in The Quranic Arabic Corpus, an online annotated linguistic resource, https://goo.gl/Lzs16g.
  3. The Talmud is the collective body of rabbinic commentaries on the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.
  4. Matthew 5:9.