A pre-State of the Union guide to Barack Obama's favorite foreign-policy themes -- and how they've evolved over time.
Today on Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks argues that Barack Obama doesn't have a "grand strategy" when it comes to foreign and national security policy. But grand strategy or not, the president has certainly delivered his fair share of foreign-policy speeches since assuming office -- 205 to be precise, according to one tally by the Washington Post. And a look back at his most sweeping, agenda-setting addresses reveals that No. 44 has consistently devoted more ink and rhetorical flair to certain issues that, when pieced together, help illuminate Obama's worldview. (For a breakdown of Obama's foreign-policy views, go here.)
In some cases, the president's views have hardly budged over time (as in the need to create a world without nuclear weapons). In others, his position has evolved (as in America's ability to dissuade Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons through negotiations). And while he can boast of significant progress in some areas (disrupting al Qaeda, withdrawing from Iraq), he has less to show in others (closing the Guantánamo Bay detention center, addressing climate change).
When Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, he may touch on relatively new topics such as the administration's strategic pivot to Asia. But you can be sure that many of the themes below will crop up once again. What'll be interesting to keep an eye on is whether Obama, after 3 years in office during a period of geopolitical upheaval, still sounds like the presidential candidate who outlined his foreign-policy vision before a roaring crowd in Berlin back in 2008.
MULTILATERALISM AND AMERICA'S GLOBAL LEADERSHIP
"Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity."
"America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
"Human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared."
"Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone. We have sought in word and deed a new era of engagement with the world, and now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.... The United States stands ready to begin a new chapter of international cooperation, one that recognizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations."
"But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace. 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."
"We must defeat determined enemies wherever they are and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. And America's moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity. And because we've begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America's standing has been restored."
"As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to try to impose regime change by force, no matter how well-intentioned it may be. But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people's call for help."
"The Security Council authorized all necessary measures to prevent a massacre. The Arab League called for this effort. Arab nations joined a NATO-led coalition that halted Qaddafi's forces in their tracks.... This is how the international community is supposed to work: nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights."
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WARS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN
"Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: 'I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.'"
"While drawing down in Iraq, we have refocused on defeating al Qaeda and denying its affiliates a safe haven. In Afghanistan, the United States and our allies are pursuing a strategy to break the Taliban's momentum and build the capacity of Afghanistan's government and security forces, so that a transition to Afghan responsibility can begin next July.... I stand here before you confident in the future -- a future where Iraq is governed by neither tyrant nor a foreign power, and Afghanistan is freed from the turmoil of war."
"The tide of war is receding. When I took office, roughly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of this year, that number will be cut in half, and it will continue to decline. This is critical for the sovereignty of Iraq and Afghanistan. It's also critical to the strength of the United States, as we build our nation at home."
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
APPROACH TO ADVERSARIES
"To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
"America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people."
"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 -- condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door."
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FIGHT AGAINST GLOBAL TERRORISM
"This is the moment when we must defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it. This threat is real and we cannot shrink from our responsibility to combat it. If we could create NATO to face down the Soviet Union, we can join in a new and global partnership to dismantle the networks that have struck in Madrid and Amman; in London and Bali; in Washington and New York."
"And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."
"In Ankara, I made clear that America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people."
"We have set a clear and focused goal to work with all members of this body to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.... Our efforts to promote peace, however, cannot be limited to defeating violent extremists. For the most powerful weapon in our arsenal is the hope of human beings, the belief that the future belongs to those who would build and not destroy, the confidence that conflicts can end and a new day can begin."
"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 may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."
"Since the day I took office, we have renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We have made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives.... And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda's fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed -- far more than in 2008."
"From South Asia to the Horn of Africa, we are moving toward a more targeted approach -- one that strengthens our partners and dismantles terrorist networks without deploying large American armies."
"We've sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you."
"By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda's agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands."
"Al Qaeda is under more pressure than ever before. Its leadership has been degraded, and Osama bin Laden, a man who murdered thousands of people from dozens of countries, will never endanger the peace of the world again."
Pete Souza/The White House
"This is the moment when we must renew the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The two superpowers that faced each other across the wall of this city came too close too often to destroying all we have built and all that we love. With that wall gone, we need not stand idly by and watch the further spread of the deadly atom."
"I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons."
"We must stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the goal of a world without them.... America intends to keep our end of the bargain. We will pursue a new agreement with Russia to substantially reduce our strategic warheads and launchers."
"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 towards disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I'm working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles."
"Even as we prosecute two wars, we are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people -- the threat of nuclear weapons. I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them."
"As we pursue the world's most dangerous extremists, we're also denying them the world's most dangerous weapons, and pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."
"American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war. Because Republicans and Democrats approved the new START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed. Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists."
"To lift the specter of mass destruction, we must come together to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. Over the last two years, we've begun to walk down that path. Since our Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, nearly 50 nations have taken steps to secure nuclear materials from terrorists and smugglers. Next March, a summit in Seoul will advance our efforts to lock down all of them. The new START treaty between the United States and Russia will cut our deployed arsenals to the lowest level in half a century, and our nations are pursuing talks on how to achieve even deeper reductions. America will continue to work for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons, and the production of fissile material needed to make them."
Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images
IRAN'S NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM
"My country must stand with yours and with Europe in sending a direct message to Iran that it must abandon its nuclear ambitions."
"It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path."
"I have said before and I will repeat: I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations. But if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards, if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people, if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East, then they must be held accountable."
"As Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: They, too, will face growing consequences."
"As part of our effort on nonproliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said -- in this hall -- that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities. And that is what we have done."
"Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before."
"The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful, it has not met its obligations, and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power. North Korea has yet to take concrete steps towards abandoning its weapons and continues belligerent action against the south. There is a future of greater opportunity for the people of these nations if their governments meet their international obligations. But if they continue down a path that is outside international law, they must be met with greater pressure and isolation."
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"The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil. As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya. Poorly secured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, or secrets from a scientist in Pakistan could help build a bomb that detonates in Paris. The poppies in Afghanistan become the heroin in Berlin. The poverty and violence in Somalia breeds the terror of tomorrow. The genocide in Darfur shames the conscience of us all. "
"We have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings."
"It is my deeply held belief that, in the year 2009, more than at any point in human history, the interests of nations and peoples are shared.... Because the time has come for the world to move in a new direction, we must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect."
"Three years ago we were confronted with the worst financial crisis in eight decades. And that crisis proved a fact that has become clearer with each passing year: Our fates are interconnected. In a global economy, nations will rise or fall together."
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"This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands. Let us resolve that all nations -- including my own -- will act with the same seriousness of purpose as has your nation, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere."
"The danger posed by climate change cannot be denied. Our responsibility to meet it must not be deferred. If we continue down our current course, every member of this assembly will see irreversible changes within their borders.... And that is why the days when America dragged its feet on this issue are over."
"But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -- because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation."
"After making historic investments in clean energy and efficiency at home, we helped forge an accord in Copenhagen that -- for the first time -- commits all major economies to reduce their emissions. We are keenly aware this is just a first step. And going forward, we will support a process in which all major economies meet our responsibilities to protect the planet while unleashing the power of clean energy to serve as an engine of growth and development."
"To preserve our planet, we must not put off action that climate change demands. We have to tap the power of science to save those resources that are scarce. And together, we must continue our work to build on the progress made in Copenhagen and Cancun, so that all of the major economies here today follow through on the commitments that were made. Together, we must work to transform the energy that powers our economies, and support others as they move down that path. That is what our commitment to the next generation demands."
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"Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words 'never again' in Darfur?"
"America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere."
"Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside. Each society must search for its own path, and no path is perfect. Each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its people and in its past traditions, and I admit that America has, too often, been selective in its promotion of democracy. But that does not weaken our commitment. It only reinforces it. There are basic principles that are universal. There are certain truths which are self-evident, and the United States of America will never waiver in our efforts to stand up for the right of people everywhere to determine their own destiny."
"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 that these movements -- these movements of hope and history -- they have us on their side."
"That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity."
"Each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its own people. Yet experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty; that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments. To put it simply, democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens."
"The United States supports a set of universal rights.... And we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region. Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest. Today, I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic, and strategic tools at our disposal."
"We believe that each nation must chart its own course to fulfill the aspirations of its people, and America does not expect to agree with every party or person who expresses themselves politically. But we will always stand up for the universal rights that were embraced by this assembly."
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"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake."
"Just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed by early next year."
"On my first day in office, I prohibited without expectation or equivocation the use of torture by the United States of America. I ordered the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed. And we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law."
"And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe 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 Guantánamo 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 -- we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard."
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"The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires."
"The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security -- a Jewish state of Israel with true security for all Israelis and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.... To break the old patterns, to break the cycle of insecurity and despair, all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private."
"Now, peace must be made by Israelis and Palestinians, but each of us has a responsibility to do our part as well. Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine -- one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity. And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means -- including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel."
"What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows: A lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples, Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.... We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."
"Now, I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn't the goal that we seek; the question is: How do we reach that goal? And I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.... Ultimately, peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied."
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