Document

How Osama bin Laden Escaped

In December, 2001, a small group of U.S. special operations forces had al Qaeda's main man cornered in Tora Bora. Days later, he crossed the border into Pakistan unnoticed. Here is the story of the White House policy that let him get away.

On Oct. 7, 2001, U.S. aircraft began bombing the training bases and strongholds of al Qaeda and the ruling Taliban across Afghanistan. The leaders who sent murderers to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon less than a month earlier and the rogue government that provided them sanctuary were running for their lives. President George W. Bush's expression of America's desire to get Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" seemed about to come true.

Three months later, American civilian and military leaders celebrated what they viewed as a lasting victory with the selection of Hamid Karzai as the country's new leader. The war had been conceived as a swift campaign with a single objective: defeat the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda by capturing or killing bin Laden and other key leaders. A unique combination of airpower, Central Intelligence Agency and special operations forces teams, and indigenous allies had swept the Taliban from power and ousted al Qaeda from its safe haven, keeping American deaths to a minimum. But even in the initial glow, there were concerns: The mission had failed to capture or kill bin Laden.

Removing the al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat. But the failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism, leaving the American people more vulnerable to terrorism, laying the foundation for today's protracted Afghan insurgency, and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.

This failure and its enormous consequences were not inevitable. By early December, bin Laden's world had shrunk to a complex of caves and tunnels carved into a mountainous section of eastern Afghanistan known as Tora Bora. Cornered in some of the most forbidding terrain on Earth, he and several hundred of his men, the largest concentration of al Qaeda fighters, endured as many as 100 airstrikes a day. One 15,000-pound bomb, so huge it had to be rolled out the back of a C-130 cargo plane, shook the mountains for miles. Even bin Laden himself expected to die. He wrote his last will and testament on Dec. 14, instructing his wives not to remarry and apologizing to his children for devoting himself to jihad. But the al Qaeda leader would live to fight another day. On or around Dec. 16, bin Laden and an entourage of bodyguards walked unmolested out of Tora Bora and disappeared into Pakistan's unregulated tribal area. Most analysts say he is still there today.

What happened in Tora Bora? A major with the Army's Delta Force, now retired and writing under the pen name Dalton Fury, was the senior U.S. military officer there, commanding about 90 special operations troops and support personnel charged with hunting down and capturing or killing bin Laden.

In interviews with committee staff, Fury explained that al Qaeda fighters arrayed in the mountains used unsecure radios, allowing U.S. forces to eavesdrop on al Qaeda, tracking their movements and gauging the effectiveness of the bombing. Even more valuable, a few days after arriving, one of the CIA operatives picked up a radio from a dead al Qaeda fighter. It gave the Americans a clear channel into the group's communications on the mountain. Bin Laden's voice was often picked up, along with frequent comments about the presence of the man referred to by his followers as "the sheikh."

For several days in early December, Fury's special ops troops moved up the mountains in pairs with fighters from the Afghan militias. The Americans used GPS devices and laser range finders to pinpoint caves and pockets of enemy fighters for the bombers. It  was clear from what they could see and what they were hearing in the intercepted conversations that relentless bombing was taking its toll.

On December 9, a C-130 cargo plane dropped the 15,000-pound bomb, known as a Daisy Cutter, on the Tora Bora complex. The weapon had not been used since Vietnam and there were early fears that its impact had not been as great as expected. But later reports confirmed that the bomb struck with massive force. A captured al Qaeda fighter who was there later told American interrogators that men deep in caves had been vaporized in what he called "a hideous explosion." That day and others, Fury described intercepting radio communications in which al Qaeda fighters called for the "red truck to move wounded" and frantic pleas from a fighter to his commander.

Given the radio signals, Fury hoped his special operations forces were getting close to capture. They were not. The United States was relying on two relatively minor warlords from the Jalalabad area for Afghan support. Haji Hazarat Ali had a fourth-grade education and a reputation as a bully. He had fought the Soviets as a teenager in the 1980s and later joined the Taliban for a time. The other, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, was a wealthy drug smuggler who had been persuaded by the United States to return from France. Together, they fielded a force of about 2,000 men, and there were questions from the outset about the competence and loyalties of the fighters. The two warlords and their men distrusted each other and both groups appeared to distrust their American allies.

Those concerns were underscored each time the Afghans insisted on retreating from the mountains as darkness fell. But the suspicions were confirmed by events that started on the afternoon of Dec. 11, a day U.S. forces heard bin Laden tell his men it was OK to surrender. Ghamsharik approached Fury and told him that al Qaeda fighters wanted to give up. He said all they needed to end the siege was a 12-hour ceasefire to allow the fighters to climb down the mountains and turn in their weapons. Intercepted radio chatter seemed to confirm that the fighters had lost their resolve under the relentless bombing, but Fury remained suspicious.

The U.S. Special Operations Command official history records that Centcom refused to back the ceasefire, suspecting a ruse, but it said the special ops forces agreed reluctantly to an overnight pause in the bombing to avoid killing any surrendering fighters. Ghamsharik negotiated by radio with representatives of al Qaeda. He initially told Fury that a large number of Algerians wanted to surrender. Then he said that he could turn over the entire al Qaeda leadership. Fury's suspicions increased with each bold promise. By the morning of Dec. 12, no al Qaeda fighters had appeared and the Delta Force commander concluded that the whole episode was a hoax. Intelligence estimates are that as many as 800 al Qaeda fighters escaped that night -- but not bin Laden.

Despite the unreliability of his Afghan allies, Fury refused to give up and started plotting ways his forces could go at bin Laden on their own. One plan was to corner bin Laden from a direction he wouldn't anticipate -- through the back door. The peaks to the south rose to 14,000 feet and the valleys and precipitous mountain passes were already deep in snow. "The original plan that we sent up through our higher headquarters, Delta Force wants to come in over the mountain with oxygen, coming from the Pakistan side," he explained. "Over the mountains and come in and get a drop on bin Laden from behind."

The audacious assault was nixed somewhere up the chain of command. Undeterred, Fury suggested dropping hundreds of landmines along the passes leading to Pakistan to block bin Laden's escape. "First guy blows his leg off, everybody else stops," he said. "That allows aircraft overhead to find them. They see all these heat sources out there. OK, there is a big large group of al Qaeda moving south. They can engage that." That proposal was rejected, too.

From the outset of the invasion and bin Laden operation, according to former CIA Director George Tenet, it was evident that aerial bombing would not be enough to get bin Laden at Tora Bora. Henry Crumpton, the head of special operations for the CIA's counterterrorism operation, for instance, had made entreaties for more troops to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks long before December. Crumpton even urged Franks to move 1,000 Marines from Kandahar to the "back door" into Tora Bora and briefed Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on the need for a greater presence on the ground. But Centcom rejected these ideas, saying it would take too long to get a large enough U.S. contingent on the scene.

On Dec. 14, the day bin Laden finished his will, Dalton Fury finally convinced Ali and his men to stay overnight in one of the canyons that they had captured during daylight. Over the next three days, the Afghan militia and their American advisers moved steadily through the canyons, calling in airstrikes and taking out lingering pockets of fighters. The resistance seemed to have vanished, prompting Ali to declare victory on Dec. 17. Most of the Tora Bora complex was abandoned and many of the caves and tunnels were buried in debris. Only about 20 stragglers were taken prisoner. The consensus was that al Qaeda fighters who had survived the fierce bombing had escaped into Pakistan or melted into the local population. Bin Laden was nowhere to be found. Two days later, Fury and his Delta Force colleagues left Tora Bora, hoping that someone would eventually find bin Laden buried in one of the caves.

There was no body because bin Laden did not die at Tora Bora. Later U.S. intelligence reports and accounts by journalists and others said that he and a contingent of bodyguards departed Tora Bora on Dec. 16. With help from Afghans and Pakistanis who had been paid in advance, the group made its way on foot and horseback across the mountain passes and into Pakistan without encountering any resistance.

The ultimate fault for the failure to capture bin Laden lies not in the U.S. effort, but in the U.S. strategy. Franks and Rumsfeld decided to attempt to deliver a swift and economical knockout blow to the Taliban through airpower and the limited application of troops on the ground. Instead of employing the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force, the Afghan model for Operation Enduring Freedom depended on airpower and on highly mobile paramilitary teams, working in concert with opposition warlords and tribal leaders. Franks capped the number of boots on the ground at 10,000.

For this reason -- the relative scarcity of U.S. soldiers -- Franks and Rumsfeld refused to send more troops to Tora Bora to block, capture, or kill bin Laden. But soldiers and scholars alike have since argued that there were sufficient troops available in Afghanistan and nearby Uzbekistan to mount a genuine assault on bin Laden's position at Tora Bora. And they could have been augmented within about a week by reinforcements from the Persian Gulf and the United States.

Peter Krause provides the most detailed description of this untaken option -- a "block and sweep" -- in an article in Security Studies, "The Last Good Chance: A Reassessment of U.S. Operations at Tora Bora." The plan is simple enough: One group of American forces would have blocked the likely exit avenues to Pakistan on the south side of Tora Bora. A second contingent would have moved against al Qaeda's positions from the north. The assault would not have required thousands of conventional forces; in fact, a large number of troops would have taken too long to deploy and alerted al Qaeda to the approaching attack. The preferred choice would have been a small, agile force capable of deploying quickly and quietly and trained to operate in difficult terrain against unconventional enemies. The U.S. military has large numbers of soldiers and Marines who meet those criteria: Delta Forces, Green Berets, Navy Seals, Marine special operations units, Army Rangers, and paratroopers.

In all, an initial force of roughly 2,000 to 3,000 troops would have been sufficient to begin the block-and-sweep mission, with reinforcements following as time and circumstances allowed. Franks had set the ceiling of 10,000 U.S. troops to maintain a light footprint. Still, within that number there were enough ready and willing to go after bin Laden. In late November, about the time U.S. intelligence placed bin Laden squarely at Tora Bora, more than 1,000 members of the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units, among the military's most mobile arms, established a base southwest of Kandahar, only a few hours flight away. They were primarily interdicting traffic and supporting the special operations teams working with Afghan militias. Another 1,000 troops from the Army's 10th Mountain Division were split between a base in southern Uzbekistan and Bagram Air Base, a short helicopter flight from Tora Bora. The Army troops were engaged mainly in military police functions, according to reports at the time.

Ironically, one of the guiding principles of the Afghan model was to avoid immersing the United States in a protracted insurgency by sending in too many troops and stirring up anti-American sentiment. In the end, the unwillingness to bend the operational plan to deploy the troops required to take advantage of solid intelligence and unique circumstances to kill or capture bin Laden paved the way for exactly what we had hoped to avoid: a protracted insurgency that has cost more lives than anyone estimates would have been lost in a full-blown assault on Tora Bora.

Bin Laden's demise would not have erased the worldwide threat from extremists. But the failure to kill or capture him has allowed bin Laden to exert a malign influence over events in the region and nearly 60 countries where his followers have established extremist groups. History shows that terrorist groups are invariably much stronger with their charismatic leaders than without them, and the ability of bin Laden and his terrorist organization to recover from the loss of their Afghan sanctuary reinforces the lesson.

Eight years after its expulsion from Afghanistan, al Qaeda has reconstituted itself and bin Laden has survived to inspire a new generation of extremists who have adopted and adapted the al Qaeda doctrine and are now capable of attacking from any number of places. The impact of this threat is greatest in Pakistan, the United States' nuclear-armed ally, where al Qaeda's continued presence and resources have emboldened domestic extremists waging an increasingly bloody insurrection. Closer to home, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says two recent suspected plots disrupted by U.S. authorities involved long-time residents of the United States who had traveled to Pakistan and trained at bases affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Plus, the costs to the United States -- human and financial -- have been staggering. The first eight years cost an estimated $243 billion and about $70 billion has been appropriated for the current fiscal year, not including President Barack Obama's 30,000 troop increase. But the highest price is being paid on a daily basis in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where 68,000 American troops and hundreds of U.S. civilians are engaged in the ninth year of a protracted conflict and the Afghan people endure a third decade of violence. So far, about 950 U.S. troops and nearly 600 allied soldiers have lost their lives in Operation Enduring Freedom, a conflict in which the outcome remains in grave doubt in large part because the extremists behind the violence were not eliminated in 2001.

ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

Document

Obama's Nobel Lecture

The prepared text of U.S. President Barack Obama's address at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations - that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize - Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela - my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women - some known, some obscure to all but those they help - to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by forty three other countries - including Norway - in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict - filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

These questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease - the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers, clerics, and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the forced used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

For most of history, this concept of just war was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations - total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of thirty years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it is hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.

In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another World War. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations - an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this Prize - America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, and restrict the most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty, self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.

A decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states; have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sewn, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, and children scarred.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago - "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive - nothing naïve - in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.

Yet the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions - not just treaties and declarations - that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest - because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another - that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths - that war is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human feelings. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions."

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?

To begin with, I believe that all nations - strong and weak alike - must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I - like any head of state - reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates - and weakens - those who don't.

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait - a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don't, our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention - no matter how justified.

This becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

America's commitment to global security will never waiver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.

The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries - and other friends and allies - demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they have shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular. But I also know this: the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That is why NATO continues to be indispensable. That is why we must strengthen UN and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That is why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali - we honor them not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace.

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant - the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.

I have spoken to the questions that must weigh on our minds and our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me turn now to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior - for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure - and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: all will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work toward disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I am working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur; systematic rape in Congo; or repression in Burma - there must be consequences. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.

This brings me to a second point - the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.

And yet all too often, these words are ignored. In some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists - a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values.

I reject this choice. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests - nor the world's -are served by the denial of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear to these movements that hope and history are on their side

Let me also say this: the promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach - and condemnation without discussion - can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable - and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty, and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There is no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.

Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights - it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

And that is why helping farmers feed their own people - or nations educate their children and care for the sick - is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action - it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.

Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All of these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power, to complete this work without something more - and that is the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share.

As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are; to understand that we all basically want the same things; that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families.

And yet, given the dizzying pace of globalization, and the cultural leveling of modernity, it should come as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular identities - their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we are moving backwards. We see it in Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint - no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith - for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached - their faith in human progress - must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith - if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace - then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, "I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him."

So let us reach for the world that ought to be - that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he's outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that - for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.