President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo is of historic importance. If followed by actions consistent with its tenets, it may be cited by future historians as a major turning point in United States foreign policy, the moment when the ship of state began to steer away from the unilateralism so evident in recent years back toward renewed American support for the instruments of international law and institutions that have been, and are, so vitally important to the successful pursuit of peace.
It will take some time for analysts and commentators to decipher Mr. Obama’s densely-packed speech, and its full significance.
The speech demonstrates that Mr. Obama’s best speech writer is … Barack Obama.
The speech is not perfect, in and of itself. Rather, it needs to be understood as the noble effort of a strong leader to provide a framework for understanding that will permit a great nation to get back on course in its support for international law and institutions, including international human rights and the mechanisms for their protection.
That course has broad and deep roots in the history of America and its relation to the world. It continues a struggle for the essential goals laid out by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his address to Congress on January 6, 1941, during the darkest days of another war, which the United States was destined to join within a year. Addressing the Congress (and the world), Roosevelt set forth “four essential human freedoms”, as follows:
The “Four Freedoms”
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Address to Congress January 6, 1941
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor– anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.
Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change — in a perpetual peaceful revolution — a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions — without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.
This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.
To that high concept there can be no end save victory.
The Trenchant Observer
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