President Barack Obama has begun his 10-day trip to India, South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan, leaving Tuesday's electoral wreckage behind him. In Indonesia, where he spent four years of his boyhood, Obama is scheduled to deliver a major speech on Islam and modernity; aides have been describing the address as a sequel to the speech he gave in Cairo in June 2009, in which he famously pledged a "new beginning" to the United States' relationship with the Muslim world. But the Muslim world already knows what he thinks. It's the people of Asia, Muslim and otherwise, to whom Obama needs to present himself, or re-present himself. With that in mind, I have written a speech for him, which I offer here. I will not be offended if he borrows portions of it without attribution.
Hello, Jakarta! It's good to be in a town where they'd vote for me if they had the chance... Yes, I love you, too. Foreign countries are great.
What I really mean is that it's wonderful to be in the future. Almost a decade ago, my country was invaded by the past. Terrorists obsessed with the injustice of the Crusades launched an attack on the West -- on modernity, as they understood it -- from the sanctuary of a medieval state. We responded, both in ways we had to and in ways we didn't. The effect was to drag us into ancient quarrels and violent hatreds. These were battles we couldn't win. One of the first things I did after taking office was to declare a "new beginning" between America and the Middle East. I admit we haven't made much headway on that. I thought the problem had to do with the way America comported itself. In fact, the problem was the Middle East: Whether it's the theocrats in Iran or the settlers in Israel or the Wahhabi rulers in Saudi Arabia, everyone's looking backwards. And we can't make them face the future if they don't want to.
Americans are afraid of the Middle East, and we're hoping that if we can nurture democracy and development there, people won't come and kill us. We're not afraid of Asia. The United Nations just reported that the countries of East Asia and the Pacific have doubled their scores on the Human Development Index over the last 40 years -- by far the world's most rapid rate of growth. Today, five countries from the region are ranked in the "very high" category of human development: Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Brunei. The only Arab countries to make it into that category are oil states. The Middle East is struggling to escape the past; Asia is already living in the future.
The rest of the world has a lot to learn from Asia. You've been at peace for 35 years, and you've used that long era of stability to develop your markets, to make prudent national investments, to make great strides in human capital. My own country is so convulsed with fear, and with fights over alleged "first principles" -- limited government versus "socialism," authenticity versus elitism -- that we can't even think collectively about the future. Some people -- Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, to be exact -- say that Asian countries have avoided many of these futile struggles thanks to "Asian values." But if that means subordinating individual to collective rights, then I don't believe it. The model of authoritarian capitalism -- the model of China and Singapore -- has not proved contagious. Indonesia has become the world's third biggest democracy and a force for stability and prosperity in Southeast Asia. And India has proved that even the most freewheeling democracy in the world can harness national energies to produce rapid economic growth.
Still, hundreds of millions of Asians live in dire poverty. Asia needs the United States as much as the United States needs Asia. You need us to provide security and stability, as we have for the last 65 years; to serve as a market to buy your goods; and to preserve the rules of a liberal economic and political order. We need Asia to continue demonstrating that democracy and equitable development are compatible; to propel worldwide economic growth; and, increasingly, to help us and other Western states shape that liberal global order. Let me take these issues one at a time.
In recent years, the United States has talked too much about security, and above all about terrorism. We will continue working on counterterrorism issues, especially with Indonesia and the Philippines. But we know that many of you feel threatened by a force much closer to home: China's aggressive territorial claims. Chinese leaders are in a bellicose mood, as if they've outgrown the "peaceful rise." They seem to regard the South China Sea as an inland lake. And we're only too happy to benefit from your fears. We are, after all, the benevolent hegemon -- or maybe ex-hegemon.