After writing the first chapters of his foreign policy legacy almost eight years ago with an international apology tour, President Obama began its conclusion Tuesday with a diatribe against American exceptionalism and patriotism during his final address to the United Nations General Assembly.
Obama took the opportunity to lay bare before his international audience what he perceives as the United States’ deepest flaws. Those flaws, according to Obama, consist of “excesses of capitalism,” “entrenched partisanship,” “racism,” and more. And how can the U.S. address those flaws? The president suggested “binding ourselves to international rules over the long term.”
“We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration. Or we can retreat into a world sharply divided, and ultimately in conflict, along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.”
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The president hammered the freedom of Americans to govern themselves as a sovereign nation and people. Obama suggested Americans needed babysitting from unelected international institutions — like the United Nations.
“And we can only realize the promise of this institution’s founding — to replace the ravages of war with cooperation — if powerful nations like my own accept constraints,” Obama said. “Sometimes I’m criticized in my own country for professing a belief in international norms and multilateral institutions. But I am convinced that in the long run, giving up some freedom of action — not giving up our ability to protect ourselves or pursue our core interests, but binding ourselves to international rules over the long term — enhances our security.”
Bemoaning the United States’ “share of mistakes over these last 25 years,” Obama pressed for a sharpened international awareness.
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“We are all stakeholders in this international system, and it calls upon all of us to invest in the success of institutions to which we belong,” Obama continued. “And the good news is, is that many nations have shown what kind of progress is possible when we make those commitments.”
As if predicting what his critics might pounce on, Obama attempted to affirm his “pride” and “love” for the U.S. — even as he maligned his own country and its independence.
“And the embrace of these principles as universal doesn’t weaken my particular pride, my particular love for America — it strengthens it,” Obama insisted. “But my faith in those principles does force me to expand my moral imagination and to recognize that I can best serve my own people, I can best look after my own daughters, by making sure that my actions seek what is right for all people and all children, and your daughters and your sons.”
As Obama sees it, the only way the U.S. can move forward as a nation is to reject its proud view of American exceptionalism and embrace the international community and abide by that spirit of global unity.
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“And so I believe that at this moment we all face a choice. We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration. Or we can retreat into a world sharply divided, and ultimately in conflict, along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion,” Obama said.