Friday, November 17, 2006

Changing the Conversation

President Bush has done a fair job of crafting a vision of hope for the Middle East. His stirring words have been a catalyst for remarkable changes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Here's a sample from his speech to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2006:
At the start of the 21st century, it is clear that the world is engaged in a great ideological struggle, between extremists who use terror as a weapon to create fear, and moderate people who work for peace.

Five years ago, I stood at this podium and called on the community of nations to defend civilization and build a more hopeful future. This is still the great challenge of our time; it is the calling of our generation. This morning, I want to speak about the more hopeful world that is within our reach, a world beyond terror, where ordinary men and women are free to determine their own destiny, where the voices of moderation are empowered, and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority. This world can be ours if we seek it and if we work together.

The principles of this world beyond terror can be found in the very first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document declares that the "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom and justice and peace in the world." One of the authors of this document was a Lebanese diplomat named Charles Malik, who would go on to become President of this Assembly. Mr. Malik insisted that these principles apply equally to all people, of all regions, of all religions, including the men and women of the Arab world that was his home.

In the nearly six decades since that document was approved, we have seen the forces of freedom and moderation transform entire continents. Sixty years after a terrible war, Europe is now whole, free, and at peace -- and Asia has seen freedom progress and hundreds of millions of people lifted out of desperate poverty. The words of the Universal Declaration are as true today as they were when they were written. As liberty flourishes, nations grow in tolerance and hope and peace. And we're seeing that bright future begin to take root in the broader Middle East.

Some of the changes in the Middle East have been dramatic, and we see the results in this chamber. Five years ago, Afghanistan was ruled by the brutal Taliban regime, and its seat in this body was contested. Now this seat is held by the freely elected government of Afghanistan, which is represented today by President Karzai. Five years ago, Iraq's seat in this body was held by a dictator who killed his citizens, invaded his neighbors, and showed his contempt for the world by defying more than a dozen U.N. Security Council resolutions. Now Iraq's seat is held by a democratic government that embodies the aspirations of the Iraq people, who's represented today by President Talabani. With these changes, more than 50 million people have been given a voice in this chamber for the first time in decades.

Some of the changes in the Middle East are happening gradually, but they are real. Algeria has held its first competitive presidential election, and the military remained neutral. The United Arab Emirates recently announced that half of the seats in its Federal National Council will be chosen by elections. Kuwait held elections in which women were allowed to vote and run for office for the first time. Citizens have voted in municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, in parliamentary elections in Jordan and Bahrain, and in multiparty presidential elections in Yemen and Egypt. These are important steps, and the governments should continue to move forward with other reforms that show they trust their people. Every nation that travels the road to freedom moves at a different pace, and the democracies they build will reflect their own culture and traditions. But the destination is the same: A free society where people live at peace with each other and at peace with the world.

That rhetoric is important, but Americans seldom hear it. The media treats us to endless stories of mayhem and bloodshed in Iraq, but few of the compassion and caring our troops provide nor the incredible strides made since Saddam Hussein was evicted from power. In the recent campaign season, I heard no one proclaim a positive vision for America, reminding us of who we are and what we're about. The candidates and their supporters were too busy complaining about the enemy, whether the other political party, President Bush, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Israel, the UN, or Al-Qaeda. There was mud-throwing, and scolding, and general unpleasantness. But I heard none that sought to inspire us to greatness.

President Reagan was an aspirational leader, preaching hope and high ideals:
And whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty's lamp guiding your steps and opportunity's arm steadying your way. My fondest hope for each one of you -- and especially for the young people here -- is that you will love your country, not for her power or wealth, but for her selflessness and her idealism. May each of you have the heart to conceive, the understanding to direct, and the hand to execute works that will make the world a little better for your having been here.

May all of you as Americans never forget your heroic origins, never fail to seek divine guidance, and never lose your natural, God-given optimism. And finally, my fellow Americans, may every dawn be a great new beginning for America and every evening bring us closer to that shining city upon a hill.

President Reagan delivered this speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston.
Now that the election is behind us, it's time to change the conversation. Quit complaining and change the world!

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