Our president stunned the world earlier today when he announced a significant shift in US foreign policy during his address to the nation. In an hour-long speech presented with passion and humility, he outlined a framework for international peace starting with sweeping cuts to US military spending and the dismantling of military bases overseas. He apologized to US citizens and the international community for “allowing our selfishness and arrogance to stand in the way of doing what is just and right”.
The tone, candor and profound implications of his speech were stirring. Its content was a radical departure from anything issued by a US president in the modern era. It was a game-changer. And it shed new light on what it means to be a superpower on the international stage. The paradigm shift in US foreign policy was never so evident as when the president spoke these words:
“Where there is conflict beyond our borders, we will allow nations to resolve their own grievances unless humanitarian concerns force us to do otherwise. And where there is cause for action, we will act as a member of our global community to reach a resolution by consensus. No longer will we act alone to resolve international affairs, and no longer will we behave or be seen as a bully in the global theater.”
“Our leadership role in the world has changed. We will lead by example with a strong moral compass, a compass which always points toward the universal good — that precise place where intelligence, conscience, compassion for others and common sense reside.”
“As our heart has changed, so have our motives. From this moment on, our military serves only to protect the citizens of our nation and to join with allied forces when the need arises. Our military will no longer be used to prop up our capitalist system nor to give us an economic advantage over other nations throughout the world.”
He called for ISIS to lay down their weapons, for Syria to stop their inhumane treatment of its citizens, for North Korea to end its tyranny.
“To the people of the Middle East, and to members of ISIS in particular, we regret having established our military occupation in your region. We admit that we did it for selfish reasons, that we’ve had no legitimate reason for being there, and we are sincerely sorry for the loss of life and irreparable damage we have caused. And we promise to never do it again without provocation.”
“To Assad and Syria, the intricate network of aggressors posturing for power in your region make it difficult for us to act on behalf of your citizens without causing more harm than good. From this moment on, we vow to never take action alone. Instead, we will rationally examine our options and determine together, with our international colleagues, the optimal course of action. Should we ever recognize a need to stage a united front in response to further inhumanities, our swift and deliberate response will not be misconstrued as having anything but honorable intentions. We won’t be there for personal gain. We will be there to simply right your wrongdoing. That said, we ask you to kindly end the inhumane treatment of your citizens.”
“To Kim Jung-Un and North Korea, we apologize for everything we have done that may have caused you to create your fear-based regime. We applaud your recent improved relations with South Korea and we ask you to open your communication and borders further to the rest of the world and allow your people the freedom to live their lives as they choose.”
Rarely do events come along that shake a person’s foundation and awaken his senses. These are the moments we tend to remember throughout life. And as I listened to our president’s delivery, measuring the weight of his words as he spoke, it became clear this would be one of those defining moments. He continued:
“There seems to be very little good news these days. Fear and hatred dominate our media with an occasional spattering of goodwill. We have become desensitized by a constant barrage of negativity and violence. With war, terrorism, and the threat of nuclear annihilation looming large, it seems at times that our world is plunging into an eternal pit of despair.”
“And yet I have faith in humanity’s ability to change our course. But to do it, we must make the the right choices. Collectively, we can either continue to allow our history to define us, or we can tap into our better natures and transcend what we know to be today’s truths. With our human nature re-imagined, we can rise above our current selves to change our world. As Cervantes so eloquently said through the words of Don Quixote, “When life seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be.”
“As we watch the events of our day play out on the world stage, we see a great deal of madness. That we live in a world with so much death and destruction, yet everyone believes themselves to be the good guys. This is madness. That we have constructed the means to place ourselves at risk of thermonuclear annihilation. This is madness. Forcing our will upon lesser nations and killing their citizens for economic gain while trying to convince the world we have honorable intentions. This is madness.”
“Is this who we are? Is this how we wish to define ourselves?”
“We have the goodness and power within us to dismiss our past and re-imagine what we believe to be true about ourselves. Together, we can transcend our current truths by “seeing our world as it can be and not as it is”. When we do this, the external changes we seek will begin to take shape.”
“I see a world where everyone respects one another. Where conflict between nations is handled, not by acts of aggression, but by diplomatic means. And I see a world where we are not defined by our socioeconomic strata, our culture, our race, or our religion, but by the content of our character and the value we bring to the world.”
“In truth, we must change our thinking or humanity will perish. And it is with this in mind that I ask you to try something new — to suspend reality and treat the world as it should be and not as it is.”
“This is a pivotal moment in history. We stand at a crossroad. We can choose to do what we’ve been doing, or we can choose a path to higher ground and usher in a bold new era. Let’s find it in our hearts to open our minds. And let’s walk hand-in-hand into the light as we enter the Age of Compassion.”
The mind numbs and enters a dreamlike state when your world-view shifts. It slows down as you attempt to get a grip and come to terms with your new unexpected and life-altering reality.
The speech had ended, but silence hung in the air as if everyone who listened were still trying to comprehend its implications. It lingered long enough for the world to gasp its first breath. And then an enormous applause erupted that seemed to ripple beyond the confines of the press room. I heard voices raised in celebration from the offices nearby.
I was carried by a joyful human stream to Pennsylvania Avenue. There I saw countless exuberant people rushing onto the street embracing one another while bestowing blessings and offering gestures of goodwill. For the first time in my lifetime, I saw the world that John Lennon knew; and it all seemed so very plausible to me, so very real.