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Revisiting Obama’s Cairo Speech

As President Obama abdicates both leadership and principle in the wake of Muammar Qaddafi’s slaughter of civilians in Libya, the Saudi Kingdom’s repression of dissent, and the shooting of protesters in Iraqi Kurdistan, it may be worthwhile for him to revisit his address to the Muslim world that he delivered in Cairo on June 4, 2009:

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.

It may be time for President Obama to reread his words and act more like a president than a pundit. George H.W. Bush gave the shameful Chicken Kiev speech but stepped up to the plate when it mattered. How unfortunate it is that President Obama is so willing to say the right things but sit on his hands when it matters.


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