America Must Not Be Afraid to Lead, Obama Says

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2011 — The les­son of Libya is that Amer­i­ca should not be afraid to lead, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said dur­ing a speech at the Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty here today.
The action to set up a no-fly zone and pro­tect the Libyan peo­ple from Moam­mar Gad­hafi says much about “the use of America’s mil­i­tary pow­er, and America’s broad­er lead­er­ship in the world, under my pres­i­den­cy,” Oba­ma said.

His respon­si­bil­i­ty as com­man­der in chief is to keep Amer­i­ca safe. No deci­sion, he said, weighs on him as heav­i­ly as when to deploy ser­vice­men and women.

“I have made it clear that I will nev­er hes­i­tate to use our mil­i­tary swift­ly, deci­sive­ly, and uni­lat­er­al­ly when nec­es­sary to defend our peo­ple, our home­land, our allies and our core inter­ests,” he said. “That is why we are going after al-Qai­da wher­ev­er they seek a foothold. That is why we con­tin­ue to fight in Afghanistan, even as we have end­ed our com­bat mis­sion in Iraq and removed more than 100,000 troops from that coun­try.”

But there are times when even if the Unit­ed States is not direct­ly threat­ened, the val­ues and ideals of Amer­i­ca are, he said.

“Some­times, the course of his­to­ry pos­es chal­lenges that threat­en our com­mon human­i­ty and com­mon secu­ri­ty – respond­ing to nat­ur­al dis­as­ters, for exam­ple; or pre­vent­ing geno­cide and keep­ing the peace; ensur­ing region­al secu­ri­ty, and main­tain­ing the flow of com­merce,” the pres­i­dent said. “These may not be America’s prob­lems alone, but they are impor­tant to us, and they are prob­lems worth solv­ing.”

Amer­i­ca should not be afraid to act, but the bur­den should­n’t rest on Amer­i­can shoul­ders alone. With Libya, the Unit­ed States mobi­lized for col­lec­tive action to enforce Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1973.

“Real lead­er­ship cre­ates the con­di­tions and coali­tions for oth­ers to step up as well; to work with allies and part­ners so that they bear their share of the bur­den and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the prin­ci­ples of jus­tice and human dig­ni­ty are upheld by all,” he said. “That’s the kind of lead­er­ship we have shown in Libya.”

Amer­i­ca stand­ing by its val­ues is an impor­tant exam­ple to a part of the world under­go­ing incred­i­ble change. The peo­ple of the Mid­dle East and North Africa refuse to be denied their rights and oppor­tu­ni­ties any longer.

“Yes, this change will make the world more com­pli­cat­ed for a time,” Oba­ma said. “Progress will be uneven, and change will come dif­fer­ent­ly in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. There are places, like Egypt, where this change will inspire us and raise our hopes. And there will be places, like Iran, where change is fierce­ly sup­pressed. The dark forces of civ­il con­flict and sec­tar­i­an war will have to be avert­ed, and dif­fi­cult polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic con­cerns addressed.”

The Unit­ed States will not be able to dic­tate the pace and scope of this change, that is up to the peo­ple of the region.

“But we can make a dif­fer­ence,” he said. “I believe that this move­ment of change can­not be turned back, and that we must stand along­side those who believe in the same core prin­ci­ples that have guid­ed us through many storms: our oppo­si­tion to vio­lence direct­ed against one’s own cit­i­zens; our sup­port for a set of uni­ver­sal rights, includ­ing the free­dom for peo­ple to express them­selves and choose their lead­ers; our sup­port for gov­ern­ments that are ulti­mate­ly respon­sive to the aspi­ra­tions of the peo­ple.”

The Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca was born in a rev­o­lu­tion. “We wel­come the fact that his­to­ry is on the move in the Mid­dle East and North Africa, and that young peo­ple are lead­ing the way,” he said. “Because wher­ev­er peo­ple long to be free, they will find a friend in the Unit­ed States. Ulti­mate­ly, it is that faith – those ideals – that are the true mea­sure of Amer­i­can lead­er­ship.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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