Excerpts from Obama's "Town Hall" in Strasbourg, France
On the eve of his first NATO meeting where he already knows he'll get precious little in the way of additional troops to fight the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, President Obama told an audience that was mostly German and French that this is their fight too -- or it ought to be.
Obama covered a lot of other ground too in a speech that was generally about the accomplishments of European-American cooperation, past, present and future. No doubt, some on the right in the U.S. will single out passages where he seems to go out of his way to take responsibility on the United States for mistakes of the past and tensions within the Western alliance. But he minced no words in telling the audience that an alliance is a two-way street. Watch the video, but here are key passages from his text:
Now, such an effort [to meet future challenges] is never easy. It's always harder to forge true partnerships and sturdy alliances than to act alone, or to wait for the action of somebody else. It's more difficult to break down walls of division than to simply allow our differences to build and our resentments to fester.
So we must be honest with ourselves. In recent years, we've allowed our alliance to drift. I know that there have been honest disagreements over policy, but we also know that there's something more that has crept into our relationship.
In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.
But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what's bad.
On both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common. They are not wise. They do not represent the truth. They threaten to widen the divide across the Atlantic and leave us both more isolated. They fail to acknowledge the fundamental truth that America cannot confront the challenges of this century alone, but that Europe cannot confront them without America.
So I've come to Europe this week to renew our partnership, one in which America listens and learns from our friends and allies, but where our friends and allies bear their share of the burden. Together, we must forge common solutions to our common problems.
So let me say this as clearly as I can: America is changing, but it cannot be America alone that changes. We are confronting the greatest economic crisis since World War II. The only way to confront this unprecedented crisis is through unprecedented coordination.
And as we restore our common prosperity, we must stand up for our common security. As we meet here today, NATO is still embarked on its first mission overseas in Afghanistan, and my administration has just completed a review of our policy in that region.
Now I understand that this war has been long. Our allies have already contributed greatly to this endeavor. You've sent your sons and daughters to fight alongside ours, and we honor and respect their service and sacrifice.
And I also know that there are some who have asked questions about why are we still in Afghanistan. What does this mean? What's its purpose?
Understand we would not deploy our own troops if this mission was not indispensable to our common security.
As president, I can tell you there's no decision more difficult, there's no duty more painful, than signing a letter to the family of somebody who's died in a war. So I understand that there's doubt about this war in Europe. There's doubt at times even in the United States. But know this: The United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan. We were attacked by an al Qaeda network that killed thousands on American soil, including French and Germans. Along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, those terrorists are still plotting today. And there -- if there is another al Qaeda attack, it is just as likely, if not more, that it will be here in Europe, in a European city.
So I've made a commitment to Afghanistan, and I have asked our NATO partners for more civilian and military support and assistance. We do this with a clear purpose: To root out the terrorists who threaten all of us; to train the Afghan people to sustain their own security; and to help them advance their own opportunity; and to quicken the day when our troops come home.
We have no interest in occupying Afghanistan. We have more than enough to do in rebuilding America.
But this is a mission that tests whether nations can come together in common purpose on behalf of our common security. That's what we did together in the 20th century. And now we need an alliance that is even stronger than when it brought down a mighty wall in Berlin.
The audience fell unusually silent when he talked about a "casual even insidious anti-Americanism." A tough message from a guest (imagine if Bush had said that in France!). Let's hope they take it to heart.
UPDATE: Obama and the U.S. have a tough row to hoe in persuading NATO allies (other than Britain and the others that have already contributed troops to deadly combat in Afghanistan) that the war is theirs, too, and more troops are badly needed. A new poll shows than nearly 60% of Germans support a pullout of all 3,500 troops Germany has stationed in Afghanistan now! And those troops have been kept largely out of harm's way an the peaceful north of the country.
What's your take on all this? Post a comment.