Today President Obama gave a speech in Brussels addressing America’s relationship with Europe and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
Early on Obama highlighted the fact that the Enlightenment, which began in Europe, gave rise to the ideas that inspired the American revolution. Obama then went on to say that in many ways the history of 20th century Europe represented the struggle between Enlightenment ideals and “an older, more traditional view of power” which “argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.”
Obama made sure to point out that this ideological struggle continues today and that “we are confronted with the belief among some that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way.”
Obama also said that the U.S. and its European allies would expand sanctions on Russia if “Russian leadership stays on its current course.”
Interestingly, Obama pushed back against accusations of hypocrisy relating to America's stance on the Russian invasion of Crimea:
Moreover, Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true that the Iraq war was a subject of vigorous debate, not just around the world but in the United States, as well. I participated in that debate, and I opposed our military intervention there.
But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Obama chose not to mention that he was opposed to the scheduled withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in December 2011.
Obama is right that the U.S. sought to “work within the international system” ahead of the invasion of Iraq, although it didn’t get the level of international approval it sought. In fact, former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan said that the war was illegal.
Obama also had something to say to non-interventionists:
There will always be voices who say that what happens in the wider world is not our concern nor our responsibility. But we must never forget that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. Our democracy, our individual opportunity only exist because those who came before us had the wisdom and the courage to recognize that ideals will only endure if we see our self-interest in the success of other peoples and other nations.
Obama went on to say that there isn’t a military option in Ukraine. Of course, without a military option the U.S. is left with little else except sanctions (which are unlikely to work) and tools of an overly involved foreign policy.
What the U.S. could do, and what would improve the lives of Ukrainians and Russians, is open the borders. However, Obama has demonstrated throughout his presidency that he approves of the U.S. being involved in the affairs of other countries and is no fan of open borders.
Watch Obama’s speech in full below: