My fellow Americans,
I take office this month at a difficult moment in our history. For the whole second half of the twentieth century, the government of the
Seven years ago, on September 11, we were shocked by the most extraordinary terrorist attack in the history of the world. Some response was obviously necessary, and the nation briefly pulled together. Unfortunately, in dealing with this new threat, we forgot many of our principles and lost our way. Today, we shall begin once again to find it and to restore the esteem of the world community that formerly was such a source of pride.
The United States, while certainly eager during the nineteenth century to expand its territory on the North American continent, sought for nearly the first century and one-half of its history to remain aloof from the quarrels of other continents. We entered the First World War in 1917 only after two years of desperate attempts both to preserve our neutrality and to convince the warring nations to make peace. When we did enter the war, President Wilson did so on behalf of impartial principles: the freedom of the seas, the lowering of economic barriers, the self-determination of all peoples, the conclusion of a peace of equals, and the gradual erosion of empires. That was why the American people supported him—and ironically, many well-meaning Americans chose to reject the peace treaty he negotiated in
Our dream of peace faded, of course, in the face of Japanese aggression in
We must revisit the Atlantic Charter today because
This Administration shall take a leaf from Franklin Roosevelt’s book and return to the practice of maintaining relations and doing business with any government that is willing to live in peace with us. We shall attempt to end our many decades of diplomatic isolation from nations like
In 1963, another great President, John F. Kennedy, decided that the time had come to give our relations with our enemies a new tone in the hope of establishing a lasting peace. The
“No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements--in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in acts of courage.”
In the same speech, he anticipated the kind of delusion that has, sadly, crippled our foreign policy in recent years.
“Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace--based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions--on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace--no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process--a way of solving problems.”
The impact of 9/11 has also skewed our view of the map of the world. We are losing sight of the great achievements of the last seventy years—the creation of a broad alliance of industrial and democratic powers, followed by the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the extraordinary evolution of China, India, and other Asian nations into increasingly modern states. For the time being these changes have removed the dangers that nearly destroyed civilization in the first half of the twentieth century, the threat of wars among advanced industrial nations. Meanwhile, the role of military power in the world has shrunk drastically. Today our military as a proportion of our population is less than 5% of its size at the end of the Second World War, about 20% of its size during the Vietnam War, and less than half its size in the latter stages of the Cold War. The militaries of other nations have shrunk proportionally. Nor is this all. Most of that alliance remains committed to the international rule of law, the universal observance of human rights, and the renunciation of military force except in self-defense. Sadly, the outgoing Administration here in the
Much of the Muslim world remains in turmoil and stands at a crossroads. Many of its people are divided by ethnic and sectarian strife and by different visions of their future. The problem of the relationship between traditional and fundamentalist Islam on the one hand and modern industrial civilization on the other has not been solved. Today let me say one thing clearly: the
Nuclear weapons, which we Americans first created more than sixty years ago in order to win the war that shaped the direction of modern civilization from that day to this, remain a threat. In the wake of the Second World War, when those weapons had been used in combat for the first and, let us hope, the last time, the Americans who had built them immediately realized the humanity had only one truly sane option: to bring them under international control and to eliminate them. Sadly, we could not make that proposal come true then, but we remained officially committed to general nuclear disarmament. In 1963 most of the nations of the world took a great step forward by banning atmospheric tests. In 1969 they took a far bigger step forward by signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. That treaty, we must remember, had many provisions. Non-nuclear signatories pledged never to acquire nuclear weapons—and nuclear signatories pledged to make a good faith effort to get rid of theirs. At the end of the Cold War the
The government of the
The new direction I am announcing today will, I know, not find favor among all our fellow citizens. They will argue that it is naïve, even dangerous. They will say once again that in a dangerous world, only the unrestrained exercise of American power can defend us. They will argue that international law and international agreements provide no real safeguards for ourselves or anyone else. They will say that we have abandoned the goal of spreading democracy. None of this is true.
It is true that we are not on the verge of a peaceful utopia such as that which has fired so many imaginations over the millennia. We can never wipe out conflict or anarchy in the world. But that does not mean that we must surrender the goal of a world ruled by law, peopled by nations with different traditions and values but living together in peace. Only by keeping our eyes on that goal can we come closer to it. To abandon it and rely only on force—as, sadly, our own government has been threatening to do for eight years—is the ultimate counsel of despair. We return to day to a more hopeful policy—but also to a far more effective one.
What lies ahead for the Islamic world and for our relations with it, we cannot tell. We must note that for several hundred years, from the fifteenth century through the eighteenth, Christian Europe lived in intermittent, deadly conflict with an armed, hostile Muslim empire on its doorstep—but these were years of great progress for western civilization nonetheless. Our future does not, in short, depend on what happens within the Muslim world. Yet we certainly do not believe that we must live in an endless state of hostility with the region, nor do we despair that it may evolve in ways that will bring us closer together. We shall however allow the peoples of that region to decide for themselves, so long as they allow us and our allies to live in peace and help build a world ruled by law. To make progress towards that dream, we must do our part as well. Within six months the United States will close its detention centers at Guantanamo or elsewhere. At that time, all prisoners held there will either be charged with crimes under the civil or military laws of the United States as they existed on January 20, 2001, or returned to their country of origin. And the great writ of habeas corpus, which has never been legally suspended, shall be restored in full vigor within the territory of the United States and its overseas possessions.
To make progress towards that dream, we must do our part as well. Within six months the United States will close its detention centers at Guantanamo or elsewhere. At that time, all prisoners held there will either be charged with crimes under the civil or military laws of the United States as they existed on January 20, 2001, or returned to their country of origin. And the great writ of habeas corpus, which has never been legally suspended, shall be restored in full vigor within the territory of the United States and its overseas possessions.
In 1826, on the eve of his death, Thomas Jefferson meditated on the future significance of the great document he had drafted fifty years before, the Declaration of Independence. Here is what he said as he regretted his inability, for reasons of health, to attend the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the signing of that great document in
“I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
This remains our hope—but while continuing to anticipate the gradual spread of our principles, we must renounce the foolish attempt to impose them by force, while turning to the equally great task of re-invigorating them at home. As