Remarks by President Obama in Address to the People of Europe

The following speech is an interesting  and major summary of US-European, and for that matter global strategy and goals, and is as good a summary of the challenges and the policies that both sides of the Atlantic face from the President himself. It is one of the best insights into Obama’s world view and the problems that America must face as well as Europe now and in the coming years. Harry Blaney III


“Remarks by President Obama in Address to the People of Europe”

Hannove Messe Fairgrounds,  Hannover, Germany April 25. 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you. Guten tag! It is wonderful to see all of you, and I want to begin by thanking Chancellor Merkel for being here. (Applause.) On behalf of the American people, I want to thank Angela for being a champion of our alliance. And on behalf of all of us, I want to thank you for your commitment to freedom, and equality, and human rights, which is a reflection of your inspiring life. I truly believe you’ve shown us the leadership of steady hands — how do you call it? The Merkel-Raute. (Laughter.) And over the last seven years, I have relied on your friendship and counsel, and your firm moral compass. So we very much appreciate your Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

To the members of the Bundestag, Prime Minister Weil, Mayor Schostock, distinguished guests, people of Germany. And I’m especially pleased to see the young people here — from Germany and across Europe. We also have some proud Americans here. (Laughter and applause.)

I have to admit that I have developed a special place in my heart for the German people. Back when I was a candidate for this office, you welcomed me with a small rally in Berlin, where I spoke of the change that’s possible when the world stands as one. As President, you’ve treated me and Michelle and our daughters to wonderful hospitality. You’ve offered me excellent beer — (laughter) — and weisswurst in Krun. You’ve now hosted our delegation here in Hannover.

My only regret is that I have never been to Germany for Oktoberfest. (Laughter.) So I will have to come back. And I suspect it’s more fun when you’re not President. (Laughter and applause.) So my timing will be good. (Applause.)

And as always, I bring the friendship of the American people. We consider the German people, and all of our European allies, to be among our closest friends in the world — because we share so much experience and so many of the same values. We believe that nations and peoples should live in security and peace. We believe in creating opportunity that lifts up not just the few but the many. And I’m proud to be the first American President to come to Europe and be able to say that, in the United States, health care is not a privilege, it is now a right for all. We share that as well. (Applause.)

Perhaps most importantly, we believe in the equality and inherent dignity of every human being. Today in America, people have the freedom to marry the person that they love. We believe in justice, that no child in the world should ever die from a mosquito bite; that no one should suffer from the ache of an empty stomach; that, together, we can save our planet and the world’s most vulnerable people from the worst effects of climate change. These are things that we share. It’s borne of common experience.

And this is what I want to talk to you about today — the future that we are building together — not separately, but together. And that starts right here in Europe.

And I want to begin with an observation that, given the challenges that we face in the world and the headlines we see every day, may seem improbable, but it’s true. We are fortunate to be living in the most peaceful, most prosperous, most progressive era in human history. That may surprise young people who are watching TV or looking at your phones and it seems like only bad news comes through every day. But consider that it’s been decades since the last war between major powers. More people live in democracies. We’re wealthier and healthier and better educated, with a global economy that has lifted up more than a billion people from extreme poverty, and created new middle classes from the Americas to Africa to Asia. Think about the health of the average person in the world — tens of millions of lives that we now save from disease and infant mortality, and people now living longer lives.

Around the world, we’re more tolerant — with more opportunity for women, and gays and lesbians, as we push back on bigotry and prejudice. And around the world, there’s a new generation of young people — like you — that are connected by technology, and driven by your idealism and your imagination, and you’re working together to start new ventures, and to hold governments more accountable, and advance human dignity.

If you had to choose a moment in time to be born, any time in human history, and you didn’t know ahead of time what nationality you were or what gender or what your economic status might be, you’d choose today — which isn’t to say that there is not still enormous suffering and enormous tragedy and so much work for us to do. It is to remember that the trajectory of our history over the last 50, 100 years has been remarkable. And we can’t take that for granted, and we should take confidence in our ability to be able to shape our own destiny.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we can be complacent because today dangerous forces do threaten to pull the world backward, and our progress is not inevitable. These challenges threaten Europe and they threaten our transatlantic community. We’re not immune from the forces of change around the world. As they have elsewhere, barbaric terrorists have slaughtered innocent people in Paris and Brussels, and Istanbul and San Bernardino, California. And we see these tragedies in places central to our daily lives — an airport or café, a workplace or a theater — and it unsettles us. It makes us unsure in our day-to-day lives — fearful not just for ourselves but those that we love. Conflicts from South Sudan to Syria to Afghanistan have sent millions fleeing, seeking the relative safety of Europe’s shores, but that puts new strains on countries and local communities, and threatens to distort our politics.

Russian aggression has flagrantly violated the sovereignty and territory of an independent European nation, Ukraine, and that unnerves our allies in Eastern Europe, threatening our vision of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. And it seems to threaten the progress that’s been made since the end of the Cold War.

Slow economic growth in Europe, especially in the south, has left millions unemployed, including a generation of young people without jobs and who may look to the future with diminishing hopes. And all these persistent challenges have led some to question whether European integration can long endure; whether you might be better off separating off, redrawing some of the barriers and the laws between nations that existed in the 20th century.

Across our countries, including in the United States, a lot of workers and families are still struggling to recover from the worst economic crisis in generations. And that trauma of millions who lost their jobs and their homes and their savings is still felt. And meanwhile, there are profound trends underway that have been going on for decades — globalization, automation that — in some cases, of depressed wages, and made workers in a weaker position to bargain for better working conditions. Wages have stagnated in many advanced countries while other costs have gone up. Inequality has increased. And for many people, it’s harder than ever just to hold on.

This is happening in Europe; we see some of these trends in the United States and across the advanced economies. And these concerns and anxieties are real. They are legitimate. They cannot be ignored, and they deserve solutions from those in power.

Unfortunately, in the vacuum, if we do not solve these problems, you start seeing those who would try to exploit these fears and frustrations and channel them in a destructive way. A creeping emergence of the kind of politics that the European project was founded to reject — an “us” versus “them” mentality that tries to blame our problems on the other, somebody who doesn’t look like us or doesn’t pray like us — whether it’s immigrants, or Muslims, or somebody who is deemed different than us.

And you see increasing intolerance in our politics. And loud voices get the most attention. This reminds me of the poem by the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats, where the best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity.

So this is a defining moment. And what happens on this continent has consequences for people around the globe. If a unified, peaceful, liberal, pluralistic, free-market Europe begins to doubt itself, begins to question the progress that’s been made over the last several decades, then we can’t expect the progress that is just now taking hold in many places around the world will continue. Instead, we will be empowering those who argue that democracy can’t work, that intolerance and tribalism and organizing ourselves along ethnic lines, and authoritarianism and restrictions on the press — that those are the things that the challenges of today demand.

So I’ve come here today, to the heart of Europe, to say that the United States, and the entire world, needs a strong and prosperous and democratic and united Europe. (Applause.)

Perhaps you need an outsider, somebody who is not European, to remind you of the magnitude of what you have achieved. The progress that I described was made possible in large measure by ideals that originated on this continent in a great Enlightenment and the founding of new republics. Of course, that progress didn’t travel a straight line. In the last century — twice in just 30 years — the forces of empire and intolerance and extreme nationalism consumed this continent. And cities like this one were largely reduced to rubble. Tens of millions of men and women and children were killed.

But from the ruins of the Second World War, our nations set out to remake the world — to build a new international order and the institutions to uphold it. A United Nations to prevent another world war and advance a more just and lasting peace. International financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to promote prosperity for all peoples. A Universal Declaration of Human Rights to advance the “inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” And here in Europe, giants like Chancellor Adenauer set out to bind old adversaries through commerce and through trade. As Adenauer said in those early days, “European unity was a dream of a few. It became a hope for [the] many. Today it is a necessity for all of us.” (Applause.)

And it wasn’t easy. Old animosities had to be overcome. National pride had to be joined with a commitment to a common good. Complex questions of sovereignty and burden-sharing had to be answered. Ant at every step, the impulse to pull back — for each country to go its own way — had to be resisted. More than once, skeptics predicted the demise of this great project.

But the vision of European unity soldiered on — and having defended Europe’s freedom in war, America stood with you every step of this journey. A Marshall Plan to rebuild; an airlift to save Berlin; a NATO alliance to defend our way of life. America’s commitment to Europe was captured by a young American President, John F. Kennedy, when he stood in a free West Berlin and declared that “freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.”

With strength and resolve and the power of our ideals, and a belief in a unified Europe, we didn’t simply end the Cold War — freedom won. Germany was reunited. You welcomed new democracies into an even “ever closer union.” You may argue over whose football clubs are better, vote for different singers on Eurovision. (Laughter.) But your accomplishment — more than 500 million people speaking 24 languages in 28 countries, 19 with a common currency, in one European Union — remains one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times. (Applause.)

Yes, European unity can require frustrating compromise. It adds layers of government that can slow decision-making. I understand. I’ve been in meetings with the European Commission. And, as an American, we’re famously disdainful of government. We understand how easy it must be to vent at Brussels and complain. But remember that every member of your union is a democracy. That’s not an accident. Remember that no EU country has raised arms against another. That’s not an accident. Remember that NATO is as strong as it’s ever been.

Remember that our market economies — as Angela and I saw this morning — are the greatest generators of innovation and wealth and opportunity in history. Our freedom, our quality of life remains the envy of the world, so much so that parents are willing to walk across deserts, and cross the seas on makeshift rafts, and risk everything in the hope of giving their children the blessings that we — that you — enjoy — blessings that you cannot take for granted.

This continent, in the 20th century, was at constant war. People starved on this continent. Families were separated on this continent. And now people desperately want to come here precisely because of what you’ve created. You can’t take that for granted.

And today, more than ever, a strong, united Europe remains, as Adenauer said, a necessity for all of us. It’s a necessity for the United States, because Europe’s security and prosperity is inherently indivisible from our own. We can’t cut ourselves off from you. Our economies are integrated. Our cultures are integrated. Our peoples are integrated. You saw the response of the American people to Paris and Brussels — it’s because, in our imaginations, this is our cities.

A strong, united Europe is a necessity for the world because an integrated Europe remains vital to our international order. Europe helps to uphold the norms and rules that can maintain peace and promote prosperity around the world.

Consider what we’ve done in recent years: Pulling the global economy back from the brink of depression and putting the world on the path of recovery. A comprehensive deal that’s cut off every single one of Iran’s paths to a nuclear bomb — part of our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons. In Paris, the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change. (Applause.) Stopping Ebola in West Africa and saving countless lives. Rallying the world around new sustainable development, including our goal to end extreme poverty. None of those things could have happened if I — if the United States did not have a partnership with a strong and united Europe. (Applause.) It wouldn’t have happened.

That’s what’s possible when Europe and America and the world stand as one. And that’s precisely what we’re going to need to face down the very real dangers that we face today. So let me just lay out the kind of cooperation that we’re going to need. We need a strong Europe to bear its share of the burden, working with us on behalf of our collective security. The United States has an extraordinary military, the best the world has ever known, but the nature of today’s threats means we can’t deal with these challenges by ourselves.

Right now, the most urgent threat to our nations is ISIL, and that’s why we’re united in our determination to destroy it. And all 28 NATO allies are contributing to our coalition — whether it’s striking ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq, or supporting the air campaign, or training local forces in Iraq, or providing critical humanitarian aid. And we continue to make progress, pushing ISIL back from territory that it controlled.

And just as I’ve approved additional support for Iraqi forces against ISIL, I’ve decided to increase U.S. support for local forces fighting ISIL in Syria. A small number of American Special Operations Forces are already on the ground in Syria and their expertise has been critical as local forces have driven ISIL out of key areas. So given the success, I’ve approved the deployment of up 250 additional U.S. personnel in Syria, including Special Forces, to keep up this momentum. They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training and assisting local forces that continue to drive ISIL back.

So, make no mistake. These terrorists will learn the same lesson as others before them have, which is, your hatred is no match for our nations united in the defense of our way of life. And just as we remain relentless on the military front, we’re not going to give up on diplomacy to end the civil war in Syria, because the suffering of the Syrian people has to end, and that requires an effective political transition. (Applause.)

But this remains a difficult fight, and none of us can solve this problem by ourselves. Even as European countries make important contributions against ISIL, Europe, including NATO, can still do more. So I’ve spoken to Chancellor Merkel and I’ll be meeting later with the Presidents of France and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and of Italy. In Syria and Iraq, we need more nations contributing to the air campaign. We need more nations contributing trainers to help build up local forces in Iraq. We need more nations to contribute economic assistance to Iraq so it can stabilize liberated areas and break the cycle of violent extremism so that ISIL cannot come back.

These terrorists are doing everything in their power to strike our cities and kill our citizens, so we need to do everything in our power to stop them. And that includes closing gaps so terrorists can’t pull off attacks like those in Paris and Brussels.

Which brings me to one other point. Europeans, like Americans, cherish your privacy. And many are skeptical about governments collecting and sharing information, for good reason. That skepticism is healthy. Germans remember their history of government surveillance — so do Americans, by the way, particularly those who were fighting on behalf of civil rights.

So it’s part of our democracies to want to make sure our governments are accountable.

But I want to say this to young people who value their privacy and spend a lot of time on their phones: The threat of terrorism is real. In the United States, I’ve worked to reform our surveillance programs to ensure that they’re consistent with the rule of law and upholding our values, like privacy — and, by the way, we include the privacy of people outside of the United States. We care about Europeans’ privacy, not just Americans’ privacy.

But I also, in working on these issues, have come to recognize security and privacy don’t have to be a contradiction. We can protect both. And we have to. If we truly value our liberty, then we have to take the steps that are necessary to share information and intelligence within Europe, as well as between the United States and Europe, to stop terrorists from traveling and crossing borders and killing innocent people.

And as today’s diffuse threats evolve, our alliance has to evolve. So we’re going to have a NATO summit this summer in Warsaw, and I will insist that all of us need to meet our responsibilities, united, together. That means standing with the people of Afghanistan as they build their security forces and push back against violent extremism. It means more ships in the Aegean to shut down criminal networks who are profiting by smuggling desperate families and children.

And that said, NATO’s central mission is, and always will be, our solemn duty — our Article 5 commitment to our common defense. That’s why we’ll continue to bolster the defense of our frontline allies in Poland and Romania and the Baltic states.

So we have to both make sure that NATO carries out its traditional mission, but also to meet the threats of NATO’s southern flank. That’s why we need to stay nimble, and make sure our forces are interoperable, and invest in new capabilities like cyber defense and missile defense. And that’s why every NATO member should be contributing its full share — 2 percent of GDP — towards our common security, something that doesn’t always happen. And I’ll be honest, sometimes Europe has been complacent about its own defense.

Just as we stand firm in our own defense, we have to uphold our most basic principles of our international order, and that’s a principle that nations like Ukraine have the right to choose their own destiny. Remember that it was Ukrainians on the Maidan, many of them your age, reaching out for a future with Europe that prompted Russia to send in its military. After all that Europe endured in the 20th century, we must not allow borders to be redrawn by brute force in the 21st century. So we should keep helping Ukraine with its reforms to improve its economy and consolidate its democracy and modernize its forces to protect its independence.

And I want good relations with Russia, and have invested a lot in good relations with Russia. But we need to keep sanctions on Russia in place until Russia fully implements the Minsk agreements that Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande and others have worked so hard to maintain, and provide a path for a political resolution of this issue. And ultimately, it is my fervent hope that Russia recognizes that true greatness comes not from bullying neighbors, but by working with the world, which is the only way to deliver lasting economic growth and progress to the Russian people.

Now, our collective security rests on a foundation of prosperity, so that brings me to my second point. The world needs a prosperous and growing Europe — not just a strong Europe, but a prosperous and growing Europe that generates good jobs and wages for its people.

As I mentioned before, the economic anxieties many feel today on both sides of the Atlantic are real. The disruptive changes brought about by the global economy, unfortunately, sometimes are hitting certain groups, especially working-class communities, more heavily. And if neither the burdens, nor the benefits of our global economy are being fairy distributed, it’s no wonder that people rise up and reject globalization. If there are too few winners and too many losers as the global economy integrates, people are going to push back.

So all of us in positions of power have a responsibility as leaders of government and business and civil society to help people realize the promise of economic and security in this integrated economy. And the good news is, we know how to do it. Sometimes we just lack the political will to do it.

In the United States, our economy is growing again, but the United States can’t be the sole engine of global growth. And countries should not have to choose between responding to crises and investing in their people. So we need to pursue reforms to position us for long-term prosperity, and support demand and invest in the future. All of our countries, for example, could be investing more in infrastructure. All of our countries need to invest in science and research and development that sparks new innovation and new industries. All of our countries have to invest in our young people, and make sure that they have the skills and the training and the education they need to adapt to this rapidly changing world. All of our countries need to worry about inequality, and make sure that workers are getting a fair share of the incredible productivity that technology and global supply chains are producing.

But if you’re really concerned about inequality, if you’re really concerned about the plight of workers, if you’re a progressive, it’s my firm belief that you can’t turn inward. That’s not the right answer. We have to keep increasing the trade and investment that supports jobs, as we’re working to do between the United States and the EU. We need to keep implementing reforms to our banking and financial systems so that the excesses and abuses that triggered the financial crisis never happen again.

But we can’t do that individually, nation by nation, because finance now is transnational. It moves around too fast. If we’re not coordinating between Europe and the United States and Asia, then it won’t work.

As the world has been reminded in recent weeks, we need to close loopholes that allow corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes through tax havens and tax avoidance, trillions of dollars that could be going towards pressing needs like education and health care and infrastructure. But to do that, we have to work together.

Here in Europe, as you work to strengthen your union — including through labor and banking reforms, and by ensuring growth across the Eurozone — you will have the staunch support of the United States. But you’re going to have to do it together, because your economies are too integrated to try to solve these problems on your own. And I want to repeat: We have to confront the injustice of widening economic inequality. But that is going to require collective work, because capital is mobile, and if only a few countries are worrying about it, then a lot of businesses will head toward places that don’t care about it quite as much.

For a lot of years, it was thought that countries had to choose between economic growth and economic inclusion. Now we know the truth — when wealth is increasingly concentrated among the few at the top, it’s not only a moral challenge to us but it actually drags down a country’s growth potential. We need growth that is broad and lifts everybody up. We need tax policies that do right by working families.

And those like me who support European unity and free trade also have a profound responsibility to champion strong protections for workers — a living wage and the right to organize, and a strong safety net, and a commitment to protect consumers and the environment upon which we all depend. If we really want to reduce inequality, we’ve got to make sure everyone who works hard gets a fair shot — and that’s especially true for young people like you — with education, and job training, and quality health care and good wages. And that includes, by the way, making sure that there’s equal pay for equal work for women. (Applause.)

The point is, we have to reform many of our economies. But the answer to reform is not to start cutting ourselves off from each other. Rather, it’s to work together. And this brings me back to where I began. The world depends upon a democratic Europe that upholds the principles of pluralism and diversity and freedom that are our common creed. As free peoples, we cannot allow the forces that I’ve described — fears about security or economic anxieties — to undermine our commitment to the universal values that are the source of our strength.

Democracy, I understand, can be messy. It can be slow. It can be frustrating. I know that. I have to deal with a Congress. (Laughter.) We have to constantly work to make sure government is not a collection of distant, detached institutions, but is connected and responsive to the everyday concerns of our people. There’s no doubt that how a united Europe works together can be improved. But look around the world — at authoritarian governments and theocracies that rule by fear and oppression — there is no doubt that democracy is still the most just and effective form of government ever created. (Applause.)

And when I talk about democracy, I don’t just mean elections, because there are a number of countries where people get 70, 80 percent of the vote, but they control all the media and the judiciary. And civil society organizations and NGOs can’t organize, and have to be registered, and are intimidated. I mean real democracy, the sort that we see here in Europe and in the United States. So we have to be vigilant in defense of these pillars of democracy — not just elections, but rule of law, as well as fair elections, a free press, vibrant civil societies where citizens can work for change.

And we should be suspicious of those who claim to have the interests of Europe at heart and yet don’t practice the very values that are essential to Europe, that have made freedom in Europe so real.

So, yes, these are unsettling times. And when the future is uncertain, there seems to be an instinct in our human nature to withdraw to the perceived comfort and security of our own tribe, our own sect, our own nationality, people who look like us, sound like us. But in today’s world, more than any time in human history, that is a false comfort. It pits people against one another because of what they look or how they pray or who they love. And yet, we know where that kind of twisted thinking can lead. It can lead to oppression. It can lead to segregation and internment camps. And to the Shoah and Srebrenica.

In the United States, we’ve long wrestled with questions of race and integration, and we do to this day. And we still have a lot of work to do. But our progress allows somebody like me to now stand here as President of the United States. That’s because we committed ourselves to a larger ideal, one based on a creed — not a race, not a nationality — a set of principles; truths that we held to be self-evident that all men were created equal. And now, as Europe confronts questions of immigration and religion and assimilation, I want you to remember that our countries are stronger, they are more secure and more successful when we welcome and integrate people of all backgrounds and faith, and make them feel as one. And that includes our fellow citizens who are Muslim. (Applause.)

Look, the sudden arrival of so many people from beyond our borders, especially when their cultures are very different, that can be daunting. We have immigration issues in the United States as well, along our southern border of the United States and from people arriving from all around the world who get a visa and decide they want to stay. And I know the politics of immigration and refugees is hard. It’s hard everywhere, in every country. And just as a handful of neighborhoods shouldn’t bear all the burden of refugee resettlement, neither should any one nation. All of us have to step up, all of us have to share this responsibility. That includes the United States.

But even as we take steps that are required to ensure our security; even as we help Turkey and Greece cope with this influx in a way that is safe and humane; even as Chancellor Merkel and other European leaders work for an orderly immigration and resettlement process, rather than a disorderly one; even as we all need to collectively do more to invest in the sustainable development and governance in those nations from which people are fleeing so that they can succeed and prosper in their own countries, and so that we can reduce the conflicts that cause so much of the refugee crisis around the world — Chancellor Merkel and others have eloquently reminded us that we cannot turn our backs on our fellow human beings who are here now, and need our help now. (Applause.) We have to uphold our values, not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.

In Germany, more than anywhere else, we learned that what the world needs is not more walls. We can’t define ourselves by the barriers we build to keep people out or to keep people in. At every crossroads in our history, we’ve moved forward when we acted on those timeless ideals that tells us to be open to one another, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

And I think of so many Germans and people across Europe who have welcomed migrants into their homes, because, as one woman in Berlin said, “we needed to do something.” Just that human impulse to help. And I think of the refugee who said, “I want to teach my kids the value of working.” That human impulse to see the next generation have hope. All of us can be guided by the empathy and compassion of His Holiness, Pope Francis, who said “refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and [they] need to be treated as such.”

And I know it may seem easy for me to say all this, living on the other side of the ocean. And I know that some will call it blind hope when I say that I am confident that the forces that bind Europe together are ultimately much stronger than those trying to pull you apart. But hope is not blind when it is rooted in the memory of all that you’ve already overcome — your parents, your grandparents.

So I say to you, the people of Europe, don’t forget who you are. You are the heirs to a struggle for freedom. You’re the Germans, the French, the Dutch, the Belgians, the Luxembourgers, the Italians — and yes, the British — (applause) — who rose above old divisions and put Europe on the path to union. (Applause.)

You’re the Poles of Solidarity and the Czechs and Slovaks who waged a Velvet Revolution. You’re the Latvians, and Lithuanians and Estonians who linked hands in a great human chain of freedom. You’re the Hungarians and Austrians who cut through borders of barbed wire. And you’re the Berliners who, on that November night, finally tore down that wall. You’re the people of Madrid and London who faced down bombings and refused to give in to fear.

And you are the Parisians who, later this year, plan to reopen the Bataclan. You’re the people of Brussels, in a square of flowers and flags, including one Belgian who offered a message — we need “more.” More understanding. More dialogue. More humanity.

That’s who you are. United, together. You are Europe — “United in diversity.” Guided by the ideals that have lit the world, and stronger when you stand as one. (Applause.)

As you go forward, you can be confident that your greatest ally and friend, the United States of America, stands with you, shoulder-to-shoulder, now and forever. Because a united Europe — once the dream of a few — remains the hope of the many and a necessity for us all.

Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)




Harry C. Blaney III

Given the recent statements by the Republican presidential candidates none appear to have any new or even relevant answers to the strategic challenges that America faces other than bluster, mass bombing (which kills thousands of innocent woman and children and civilians which is what the terrorist do), and making disparaging remarks about the policies of President Obama. That is frankly not enough for any one who is aspiring to be the leader of the free world and possibly Commander-in-Chief with his fingers on the atomic button.

The debate last GOP debate of 2015on November 16th only reinforced this impression, besides trying to put each other down and making what can only be described as vague and even outrageous remarks on serious national security issues it shows again what light-weights they all are and I do mean nearly all were in the area of foreign policy and national security.

Much of the key part of the debate focused on who would be harshest on ISIS without really a word that would actually provide or seriously outline a true comprehensive realistic and efficacious strategy to deal with the complex threat that is ISIS or the regional landscape.

Trump thinks that banning Muslim believers is a strategy to defeat Islamic radicals in ISIS, most experts believe it has just the opposite effect of increasing the recruitment of more terrorists at home and abroad. This misguided policy is just what ISIS wants. In fact Bakr al- Baghdadi who heads the Islamic State has recently taunted America for not putting troops on the ground so that can be easy targets – in effect Trump is playing to ISIS’s trap. He is just that stupid.

On of the more sane candidate side, by only a small margin, was Jeb Bush who said:

“Well, first of all, we need to destroy ISIS in the caliphate. That’s — that should be our objective. The refugee issue will be solved if we destroy ISIS there, which means we need to have a no-fly zone, safe zones there for refugees and to build a military force.

We need to embed our forces — our troops inside the Iraqi military. We need to arm directly the Kurds. And all of that has to be done in concert with the Arab nations. And if we’re going to ban all Muslims, how are we going to get them to be part of a coalition to destroy ISIS?”

Bush added as an example of his vague and simpleminded view of the struggle against ISIS: “It is developing a strategy, leading the world, funding it to make sure that we have a military that’s second to none, and doing the job and making sure that we destroy ISIS there. That’s how you keep America safe.” As if this simplicity is a real policy!

Note we already are leading the fight against ISIS, we are already have a military that is second to none (did not Bush already know that?), and “making sure” is a strategy?

This statement proves both points above: namely that he is following Obama’s plan only “more so,” if one can figure out what that means in the end. The one idea that he included which has not yet been adapted is to establish a “no-fly zone” which would require the strong support of Muslim troops on the ground that included both Sunni and Shia forces and, in my view, also UN peacekeepers and much higher levels of refugee support and security than it seems the Republicans are likely to vote for in Congress to help Obama. The “no fly zone” idea is seen by some as an opening wedge to get US combat troops on the ground without saying so. (It does not have to be so however.)

But Trump is not alone in coming up with ideas that are counterproductive and dangerous. What is interesting is that these candidates are all paying to basic fear after the Paris attack and trying to increase that fear among Americans. This includes both pointing to an attack on America and saying over and over that Obama is “weak” on dealing with ISIS. They all think they could do better but when pressed for specific policies they often just repeat what Obama is already in doing — only “more.”

Lets take the case of Sen. Marco Rubio to frighten his GOP audience he said:

what’s important to do is we must deal frontally with this threat of radical Islamists, especially from ISIS. This is the most sophisticated terror group that has ever threatened the world or the United States of America. They are actively recruiting Americans.”

The fact is that terrorist threats in America have decreased rather than increased since 911 and many are “lone wolf” types and small scale. More people die of guns being used daily but the candidates never talk of stopping people from having guns or restrictions on gun ownership or use. Are they really interested in the safety of Americans?

Rubio other misstatement was on the growth of ISIS “We also understand that this is a group that’s growing in its governance of territory.” The fact is that ISIS control over Iraq and parts of Syria have been reduced from their heights (a loss reportedly of some 30-40% of land control in Iraq), and outside Iraq and Syria they are in some places on the run and not least from their deadly terrorism competitor Al Qaeda affiliates in some Islamic nations and attacks by US and allied special forces and bombing.

The other candidate Sen.Ted Cruz with little comprehension evidently of the true complexity of the Middle East, and especially the complex role and differing goals of the many actors in the region, and seems oblivious to the danger of ‘doing stupid things” as Obama put it.

Cruz’s answer to the issue of immigration and the terrorist threat is not quite that of Trump but still exclusionary legislation, he described it this way: “what my legislation would do is suspend all refugees for three years from countries where ISIS or Al Qaida control substantial territory.” So those who are most threatened with being killed by ISIS would be excluded from being refugees which are by definition are in danger in their own country. I wonder if he feels the same why about excluding Cubans, like his family, from the United States if they feel they are threaten by the communist party there???? America has almost automatically been welcoming Cubans to America for decades.

Take the sophistication of Cruz’s strategic vision and what he proposes that might be different from what is already taking place on the ground:

“…… ISIS is gaining strength because the perception is that they’re winning. And President Obama fuels that perception. That will change when militants across the globe see that when you join ISIS that you are giving up your life, you are signing your death warrant, and we need a president who is focused on defeating every single ISIS terrorist and protecting the homeland, which should be the first priority.” And Obama is not?

Cruz also said: “What it means is using overwhelming air power to utterly and completely destroy ISIS. To put things in perspective, in the first Persian Gulf War, we launched roughly 1,100 air attacks a day. We carpet bombed them for 36 days, saturation bombing, after which our troops went in and in a day and a half mopped up what was left of the Iraqi army.

Right now, Obama is launching between 15 and 30 air attacks a day. It is photo op foreign policy. We need to use overwhelming air power. We need to be arming the Kurds. We need to be fighting and killing ISIS where they are.”

My comment to these remarks is, yes Senator Cruz, and Iraq in 2003 turned out so great with that same strategy. It seems to me that the U.S. strategy includes quite a bit bombing attacks, arming and training of the Kurds and Sunni tribes and Iraqi aremy and seems after time and hard U.S. efforts to be now working. The bombing under Obama has been, as it should under international laws of war, not aimed at civilians. Cruz misses the point that most of the ISIS troops are camped in cities and towns with civilians….and it is our duty to try not to kill them. We are there to save them but when we kill their families they will be supporters of the Islamic State.

One added thought about possible ISIS fighters being afraid of death and our bombing and troops……..Cruz you may not have been reading about so many that have happily joined suicide squads and pledge to die for their cause. And like Trump, Rubio, and Cruz and none of the rest has the wit of getting to some of the fundamental religious, social, political, and historical realities on the ground, which thankfully Obama and Secretary Kerry were and are dealing with under difficult conditions – but not these crazy and clueless ideologues, which is likely the only path towards long term peace and real security for the region.

As for the rest of the lot, none came up with any new ideas or analysis that got to the bottom of real conditions and solutions to ISIS or the larger Middle East conflicts.

As to the media coverage of the debate, it was as vapid as the earlier ones, including those largely on domestic issues…….filled with highly laudatory or banal reviews by the usual right wing pundits and TV and radio commentators….or selected criticism of the “wrong” candidate of the moment and the “right” one of favor.

The questions did not get to the heart of the matter in most cases. The post debate mainline media chat was mostly empty of real insight since many commentators especially on TV and radio were even less knowledgeable than the candidates themselves. There were few real experts on the Middle east or strategic matters asking questions and those that were put on after seemed almost made up of cheering squads and echochambers of the worst kind made up of neocons and Fox News types without hard decades of real field experience. Happily there were some deep and thoughtful commentaries but mostly in the quality press which does not, sadly, reach the mass viewers of broadcast outlets.

Where were the  real reporters? Now we get talking heads and “hosts.” Where were those who have spent decades on the ground in combat zones in the Middle East or North Africa – almost nowhere to be found? Much of the “bought” U.S. media is as much a danger to our democracy as are the GOP candidates. Few challenged clear mistaken facts or shallow understanding, indeed it was as if they were covering a horse race not the would be leaders of the free world. In the world of parachute journalism few have the chance to be on the ground long enough to truly know the terrain. Others are chosen more for their looks or ideology than expertise. I hope future debates are more enlightening.

Finally, you can find many added quotes from the debates and other statements on this blog in the section at the right top.

We welcome comments!!!!!


Donald Trump
Photo: Associated Press

Harry C. Blaney III

The sad and tragic attacks in Paris have resulted in many disparate reactions on both sides of the Atlantic. It provided excuses for the far right to push their racism and ideology and hatred of “the other.” And on the liberal progressive side, while generally supporting action against ISIS, we see increased sense of sharing a common tragedy, trying to learn how these events may be a way to come together, and the need for healing against the conservative push to blame generally immigrants or refugees for these acts.

It has become the norm for conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic to advance far right ideological and often racist agendas.  There has been a significant reaction towards the more destructive, dismaying, and bias self-serving side. The Republican presidential candidates seem to want to use the attack in Paris to show an even more extreme and crazy adherence to the worst elements of  their stance of existing racism and xenophobic prejudices. Unbelievably, Donald Trump said he would be open to the idea that Muslims should carry a special ID and could be placed under surveillance “to learn about the enemy.” He added that mosques should be shut down, they represent “hotbeds” for terrorists.

Paris was an excuse for many Republicans to attack immigrants and refugees. Another prime example was the House of Representatives passing overwhelmingly with some Democrats, a law that aims to almost completely restricts Syrian refugees from entry into the U.S.  President Obama has already said it would be vetoed. Some states have also said they would not take Syrian refugees.

In Britain and continental Europe there has also been acts by many right wing parties and fascists groups to use the Paris attacks for their own, long held, ideological and racist goals. These include calling for restrictions on already settled migrants and Muslims, calling for identity papers to indicate if a person was is Muslim, and an imposition of new barriers to immigrants especially from the Middle East and Africa. Already some states have closed, almost completely, their borders to refugees, with some EU nations saying they would only take Christians. And these are only some of the proposal to marganialize immigrants and even settled residents.

There are moves by far right parties to pass laws that could increase loss of civil rights for certain groups. France has already passed a three months state of emergency act which restrict rights of citizens and France has also put up new barriers at their borders. Some of this is understandable given the extent of the killing, but it is also a way to institutionalize some discriminatory practices.

If these are the kind of prejudice filled restrictions and possible police widespread clampdowns that apply to Muslim citizens and new refugees, the result will only be more harsh marginalization of these groups and more resentment and sense of helplessness and anger.

In this case the terrorists will have won with their vicious acts in Paris. This will be a loss to terrorism, and a massive increase in military and police forces, which will cost the nations billions of Euros. They will have also won with their argument that Christians hate Muslims and will never permit them true integration in their nations.  

Further on the positive side, in the UK the initial reaction was to stand in unity with the French in their moment of tragedy. Here in Britain, there were many events of people gathering with flowers and candles, there was  a “friendly” European football match in Paris, between England and France, where both sides sang the French national anthem.

The media in Europe is divided on how to deal with these attacks and how to approach the serious problem of a large influx of especially Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan citizens, as well as North African immigrants and refugees. Here in London some conservative papers, which make up a vast majority of journals, have pandered towards the worst prejudices. And they also have argued for major police clamp down, increase of funding for police, and for a mostly military approach and solution to the Paris attack without much analysis of cost, means, or consequences. Also left parties have been attacked by these conservative news media for their lack of support of strong major military actions and questioned for their defense of the nation.

To be honest, the same seems to be true with American media. The Wall Street Journal in their 11/18  editorial “A Syrian Refugee Lesson for Liberals” and their publication of a  quote by the British right wing scholar and super hawk Niall Ferguson, seem together to think that all the problems of the Middle East, including ISIS and the refugee crisis, is due to President Obama, and liberals. Their aim seems to entice America to send massive armed combat forces into Syria and Iraq and accusing the West, especially President Obama, of “weakness.” They have learned nothing by Iraq, and again their only real answer is sending in more American solders to fight on a murky and unintelligible landscape with no idea of how to shape the end outcome and create sustaining peace in the region.

It is critical to winning the struggle against terrorism that the “better angels of our nature” are at work as an important and constructive element. We need a common sense of sympathy and shared compassion in the face of brutality. There have been in Europe, groups and individuals of Muslims and other religious traditions who have stated jointly their unity in both denouncing and opposing terrorism. Nations need to not permit discrimination or reprisals against the vast majority of moderate Muslims, to win against terrorism.

At this writing it is unclear whether the “better angels” or the bigots and war hawks will win in either Europe or in America — sadly.

To leave a comment, please click on the title and comment at the bottom of the post! 


paris attacks memorial
Photo: CNN


Harry C. Blaney III

Almost everyone seems to agree that the attacks in Paris are a global wake-up call.  ISIS has tried to show that there is almost no limit to its power to do harm. But we need to understand, despite cries from different sides between do nothing to all out war, that other options are available and more realistic. Already, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have recently given more structure and an outline of a reinforced strategy to weaken and defeat ISIS. This was laid out with our allies in Vienna and Turkey as a strategy that prevailing, does not require large numbers of US fighting troops on the ground.

There seems at this moment a bit more unity by key countries to take on the challenge to degrade and defeat ISIS in their own territory after the Paris atrocities. France has already intensified its bombing campaign and Prime Minister David Cameron has signaled his desire to start a UK bombing campaign in Syria that earlier the House of Common rejected.

The most important development as noted was a full court press by Obama and Kerry to once again try to “herd cats” – namely Europe, Turkey, Egypt, the Gulf States including Saudi Arabia, and not least Russia, or at least to be together on the first page if not the entire book. The result was Turkey largely agreeing to close the gaps in its border with Syria, Russia to focus more, it seems, on bombing ISIS rather than its past attacks on moderate forces we have supported, who are against Assad. And now, greater Europe’s acceptance of responsibility for military action, and also humanitarian assistance and peacemaking efforts.

Russia has also acknowledged that its civilian plane over Egypt was destroyed by a terrorist bomb, and Putin has now vows he will destroy ISIS, who he said, was behind this act. But there is yet no consensus between the West and Putin on the ultimate fate of Assad, but for the moment, both sides see ISIS as the first priority.

Diplomacy is, without any doubt, the best tool we have, and as Obama and Kerry have said many times our most important means for defeating ISIS and indeed mitigating the conflicts in the Middle East. It’s work is in a most complex and difficult landscape. Yet is seems as if some progress is being made, despite republican carping, using both diplomacy as the key and a focused military element.

Further, in Europe there is ferocious debate between the forces on the far right, some of whom are urging a purely military solution, and on the left, some who want to do noting or very little at all, and those that do seek serious diplomatic efforts with a military component as needed. Many in the middle here see a reasoned two element approach of diplomacy and military action, especially an intensified bombing campaign after the Paris attacks.

The other key issues dividing citizens and parties in Europe, and are being used as partisan political subjects for narrow gain, namely immigration from conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa, is the treatment and acceptance of the Muslim population already settled in Europe,  and those simply seeking to play upon fear to obtain power.

But there is also a more kinder and thoughtful set of forces from the  Paris attacks — seen is also a a rare sense of unity with France and even in some sectors an acknowledgment that they would be stronger to withstand terrorism through cooperation and mutual help rather than the recent bouts of divisions and anti-EU sentiments and myopic prejudices directed at those from other European nations. There are even some who are pushing back against those showing hate for immigrants.  Whether these “better angles of our spirit” will prevail is still uncertain, but they need as much support from within and outside to come to an end point of common respect with increased sense of commonality and shared goals and values.

More on these forces and events at work in Europe in future blog posts from London.

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Datelined London

Photo: The Guardian

Harry C. Blaney III

Last night Friday on a TV screen in London we watched in real time the horrific unfolding of the terrorism acts which at this report time cost the lives of some 129 persons and many more wounded as the total is likely to grow over time. The analysis is that it was an organized series of such attacks which were designed to cause major fear not only in Paris but in France and beyond. It has had already reverberations throughout Europe and even in America.

Friday night UK time, President Obama said while the events were still active, that this was an attack on all humanity and this view was echoed by statements by President Holland and Prime Minister Cameron and others.

This attack has had many implications for both France’s own security and the possible impacts on its politics, economy, and not least the relationship with Muslims in France that constitute, by some estimates, 4.7% of the population, the largest in Europe.

ISIS almost immediately took “credit” for these acts of brutality. ISIS said this was a retaliation for France’s acts of bombing against it. President Holland in the immediate aftermath said that this was “war” and promised swift action and France will be “merciless against the terrorists.” These were acts of war Holland stated on Saturday that the attacks were planned abroad. Two people were arrested in Belgium and two attackers were said to come from Syria and Egypt. An American student and a British London School of Economics student were killed at last reports.

This act has been called a massacre – the worst attack in France’s recent history. Paris is in shock but the reactions take a wide range of anger, horror, revulsion, fear, and a determination to both carry on and to respond against the terrorists. But people in Paris are clearly very uncertain and cautious. Holland has taken a hard stance, which is understandable given the brutality of the attack. Holland has called a state of emergency and the French Prime Minister has said on Saturday that France will enhance its attacks on ISIS and will not be deterred by threats.

If ISIS thought the attacks would frighten France and other countries to stop their attacks it looks that this has likely backfired. But the other danger is that the attacks increased polarization and racist and right wing groups may use these attacks to instigate hatred for migrants, the domestic Islamic community, and citizens and create even more fear for political reasons. This could backfire and increase the sense of alienation which has already led to disaffected and angry Muslim youth joining ISIS. Thus national authorities need to find a fine line between cracking down on likely terrorists but at the same time assuring regular Muslim citizens that they live in a welcoming and safe environment.

The reaction from other countries was with statements of sympathy and solidarity. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron promised to be of help in any way they can. Here in London tonight there was a large vigil and gathering of citizens showing solidarity with Paris and France, with the tricolor lights of the French flag projected against the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square which I and my wife went to. I could not be but aware of the irony that a few weeks earlier there were many statements related to Britain leaving the EU by the Tory leaders, including Cameron, about how UK was different from the Continental Europeans. That party’s majority MPs desires to separate from countries like France that they wish little ties with that are seeking for more European unity.

One interesting element which some have commented on is that at the moment when ISIS is under siege at their home base in Syria/Iraq, they have carried out their most successful major and effective massive attack in Paris and created a sense of fear throughout Europe and beyond. This brutality gives ISIS major international profile and forced focus on their presence abroad while at the same time facing increased military action against them. This pressure is due to American bombing and more effective moderate reinforcements on the ground of allied groups fighting in their home bases.

As for Paris, one concern is that if this can happen in Paris, it could happen again and anywhere. Thus the international dimension has now been established and it is clear that the G-20 meeting in Turkey this week attended in advance by Secretary Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister with President Obama soon arriving, will strongly focus on what can be done on an international level to deal with such horrific and massive attacks and what are the implication of these more professional and devastating attacks on citizens and how to prevent or mitigate them. But also how to solve the basic problem of how to put an end to ISIS and get rid of Assad and create a more safe and stable region.

What does all this mean? As noted, one danger is a backlash over Europe against Muslims and this anger being exploited by right-wing racists parties like UKIP and the Le Pen party in France.

The other question is where does the Western nations and their Islamic allies go next against ISIS both in their Syria/Iraq stronghold and to counter their international reach. This is not a new question but the Paris attacks gives it new urgency and profile to these questions. What has been said and I think still stands is that what is most needed is a viable diplomatic solution likely backed up by some sort of military action also.

Many are saying too little is being done while others think American engagement in the region is too much. Will the attacks in France change any of this? Will changes on the ground change anything also? The Question for the major powers and many members of the G-20 and also Muslim nations in the region is can there be a way of putting the necessary elements together to achieve sooner rather than later a dismemberment of ISIS and a political structure on the ground to replace the present chaos and brutality. This will take major decisions by all, that enough is enough and all are in peril if this ISIS and other Jihadis forces remain powerful and dominant and attract each day new and committed recruits.

The key must be in the long term to return the region to some sense of normality and hope for security and some decent economy and employment of youth. But also at the heart of any solution must be a mitigation of the religious and political conflict between the Sunni and Shia sects which really means Shia Iran, its allies, and Sunni Saudi Arabia and Gulf States and others. It may also mean bringing peace to the Israeli and Palestinian situation via a two state solution and now the sooner the better. On seeking security and security for the region here American power and European and regional allies and perhaps even Russia and Iran might just find some common ground. This is probably asking too much now, but if not now when? If one waits, will not all be caught by a maelstrom of disaster and destruction from which none will survive intact.

More in time on these issues and related events from Europe.

We welcome your comments!