President Obama Addresses the British Parliament
Articles,  Blog

President Obama Addresses the British Parliament

Mr. President,
ladies and gentlemen, history is more than the
path left by the past. It influences the present
and can shape the future. We meet today in
Westminster Hall, a building begun 900 years ago
when the Vikings were visiting the shores of what would
become the United States, even if it was Columbus who
would subsequently demonstrate the politician’s art
of arriving late, but claiming all the credit. (laughter) This hall has witnessed grim
trials in the sentencing to death of a king, coronation
banquets, ceremonial addresses, and the coffins of those
receiving the last respects of our people. Few places reach so far into
the heart of our nation. Yet until today, no American
president has stood on these steps to address our
country’s Parliament. It is my honor, Mr. President,
to welcome you as our friend and as a statesman. Statesmanship is the cement
which seals our shared idealism as nations. It makes meaningful the unity of
ambition, passion for freedom, and abhorrence of injustice
that is the call of our close alliance. It has fallen to you to tackle
economic turbulence at home, to protect the health
of those without wealth, and to seek that precious
balance between security which is too often threatened, and
human rights which are too often denied. History is not the burden of
any one man or woman alone. But some are called to
meet a special share of it’s challenges. It is a duty that you discharge
with a dignity, determination, and distinction that
are widely admired. Abraham Lincoln once observed
that nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s
character, give him power. Ladies and gentlemen, the
President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. (applause) President Obama:
Thank you very much. (applause) Thank you very much. Thank you. (applause) Thank you. (applause) Thank you so much. (applause) My Lord Chancellor, Mr. Speaker,
Mr. Prime Minister, my lords, and members of the
House of Commons: I have known few greater honors
than the opportunity to address the Mother of Parliaments
at Westminster Hall. I am told that the last three
speakers here have been the Pope, Her Majesty the
Queen, and Nelson Mandela — which is either a very high
bar or the beginning of a very funny joke. (laughter) I come here today to
reaffirm one of the oldest, one of the strongest alliances
the world has ever known. It’s long been said that the
United States and the United Kingdom share a
special relationship. And since we also share an
especially active press corps, that relationship is often
analyzed and overanalyzed for the slightest hint
of stress or strain. Of course, all relationships
have their ups and downs. Admittedly, ours got off on the
wrong foot with a small scrape about tea and taxes. (laughter) There may also have been
some hurt feelings when the White House was set on fire
during the War of 1812. (laughter) But fortunately, it’s been
smooth sailing ever since. The reason for this close
friendship doesn’t just have to do with our shared history,
our shared heritage; our ties of language
and culture; or even the strong partnership
between our governments. Our relationship is special
because of the values and beliefs that have united
our people through the ages. Centuries ago, when
kings, emperors, and warlords reigned
over much of the world, it was the English who first
spelled out the rights and liberties of man
in the Magna Carta. It was here, in this very hall,
where the rule of law first developed, courts
were established, disputes were settled, and
citizens came to petition their leaders. Over time, the people of
this nation waged a long and sometimes bloody struggle
to expand and secure their freedom from the crown. Propelled by the ideals
of the Enlightenment, they would ultimately forge
an English Bill of Rights, and invest the power to govern
in an elected parliament that’s gathered here today. What began on this island would
inspire millions throughout the continent of Europe
and across the world. But perhaps no one drew greater
inspiration from these notions of freedom than your
rabble-rousing colonists on the other side
of the Atlantic. As Winston Churchill
said, the “…Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, Habeas
Corpus, trial by jury, and English common law find
their most famous expression in the American Declaration
of Independence.” For both of our nations, living
up to the ideals enshrined in these founding documents has
sometimes been difficult, has always been a
work in progress. The path has never been perfect. But through the struggles
of slaves and immigrants, women and ethnic minorities,
former colonies and persecuted religions, we have learned
better than most that the longing for freedom and human
dignity is not English or American or Western
— it is universal, and it beats in every heart. Perhaps that’s why there are
few nations that stand firmer, speak louder, and fight harder
to defend democratic values around the world than the United
States and the United Kingdom. We are the allies who
landed at Omaha and Gold, who sacrificed side by side to
free a continent from the march of tyranny, and help prosperity
flourish from the ruins of war. And with the founding of
NATO — a British idea — we joined a transatlantic
alliance that has ensured our security for over
half a century. Together with our allies,
we forged a lasting peace from a cold war. When the Iron Curtain lifted, we
expanded our alliance to include the nations of Central
and Eastern Europe, and built new bridges to Russia
and the former states of the Soviet Union. And when there was
strife in the Balkans, we worked together
to keep the peace. Today, after a difficult decade
that began with war and ended in recession, our nations have
arrived at a pivotal moment once more. A global economy that once stood
on the brink of depression is now stable and recovering. After years of conflict, the
United States has removed 100,000 troops from Iraq, the
United Kingdom has removed its forces, and our combat
mission there has ended. In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the
Taliban’s momentum and will soon begin a transition
to Afghan lead. And nearly 10 years after 9/11,
we have disrupted terrorist networks and dealt al Qaeda a
huge blow by killing its leader — Osama bin Laden. Together, we have
met great challenges. But as we enter this new
chapter in our shared history, profound challenges
stretch out before us. In a world where the prosperity
of all nations is now inextricably linked, a new era
of cooperation is required to ensure the growth and stability
of the global economy. As new threats spread
across borders and oceans, we must dismantle terrorist
networks and stop the spread of nuclear weapons, confront
climate change and combat famine and disease. And as a revolution races
through the streets of the Middle East and North Africa,
the entire world has a stake in the aspirations of a
generation that longs to determine its own destiny. These challenges come at a time
when the international order has already been reshaped
for a new century. Countries like China, India,
and Brazil are growing by leaps and bounds. We should welcome
this development, for it has lifted hundreds of
millions from poverty around the globe, and created new
markets and opportunities for our own nations. And yet, as this rapid
change has taken place, it’s become fashionable in some
quarters to question whether the rise of these nations will
accompany the decline of American and European
influence around the world. Perhaps, the argument goes,
these nations represent the future, and the time for
our leadership has passed. That argument is wrong. The time for our
leadership is now. It was the United States and
the United Kingdom and our democratic allies that shaped a
world in which new nations could emerge and individuals
could thrive. And even as more nations take on
the responsibilities of global leadership, our alliance will
remain indispensable to the goal of a century that
is more peaceful, more prosperous and more just. At a time when threats and
challenges require nations to work in concert
with one another, we remain the greatest
catalysts for global action. In an era defined by the
rapid flow of commerce and information, it is our free
market tradition, our openness, fortified by our commitment to
basic security for our citizens, that offers the best chance
of prosperity that is both strong and shared. As millions are still denied
their basic human rights because of who they are, or
what they believe, or the kind of government
that they live under, we are the nations most willing
to stand up for the values of tolerance and self-determination
that lead to peace and dignity. Now, this doesn’t mean we
can afford to stand still. The nature of our leadership will
need to change with the times. As I said the first time I
came to London as President, for the G20 summit, the days
are gone when Roosevelt and Churchill could sit in a room
and solve the world’s problems over a glass of brandy —
although I’m sure that Prime Minister Cameron would agree
that some days we could both use a stiff drink. (laughter) In this century, our joint
leadership will require building new partnerships,
adapting to new circumstances, and remaking ourselves to meet
the demands of a new era. That begins with our
economic leadership. Adam Smith’s central insight
remains true today: There is no greater generator of wealth and
innovation than a system of free enterprise that unleashes the
full potential of individual men and women. That’s what led to the
Industrial Revolution that began in the factories of Manchester. That is what led to the dawn of
the Information Age that arose from the office parks
of Silicon Valley. That’s why countries like China,
India and Brazil are growing so rapidly — because
in fits and starts, they are moving toward
market-based principles that the United States and the United
Kingdom have always embraced. In other words, we live in a
global economy that is largely of our own making. And today, the competition for
the best jobs and industries favors countries that
are free-thinking and forward-looking; countries with
the most creative and innovative and entrepreneurial citizens. That gives nations like the
United States and the United Kingdom an inherent advantage. For from Newton and Darwin
to Edison and Einstein, from Alan Turing to Steve Jobs,
we have led the world in our commitment to science and
cutting-edge research, the discovery of new
medicines and technologies. We educate our citizens and
train our workers in the best colleges and
universities on Earth. But to maintain this advantage
in a world that’s more competitive than ever, we will
have to redouble our investments in science and engineering, and
renew our national commitments to educating our workforces. We’ve also been reminded in the
last few years that markets can sometimes fail. In the last century, both our
nations put in place regulatory frameworks to deal with such
market failures — safeguards to protect the banking system
after the Great Depression, for example; regulations that
were established to prevent the pollution of our air and
our water during the 1970s. But in today’s economy, such
threats of market failure can no longer be contained within
the borders of any one country. Market failures can go
global, and go viral, and demand international responses. A financial crisis that began
on Wall Street infected nearly every continent, which is why we
must keep working through forums like the G20 to put in place
global rules of the road to prevent future
excesses and abuse. No country can hide from the
dangers of carbon pollution, which is why we must build on
what was achieved at Copenhagen and Cancun to leave our
children a planet that is safer and cleaner. Moreover, even when the free
market works as it should, both our countries recognize
that no matter how responsibly we live in our lives,
hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff
may strike any one of us. And so part of our common
tradition has expressed itself in a conviction that every
citizen deserves a basic measure of security — health
care if you get sick, unemployment insurance
if you lose your job, a dignified retirement after
a lifetime of hard work. That commitment to our citizens
has also been the reason for our leadership in the world. And now, having come through
a terrible recession, our challenge is to meet these
obligations while ensuring that we’re not consuming — and hence
consumed — with a level of debt that could sap the strength
and vitality of our economies. And that will require difficult
choices and it will require different paths for
both of our countries. But we have faced such
challenges before, and have always been able to
balance the need for fiscal responsibility with the
responsibilities we have to one another. And I believe we
can do this again. As we do, the successes and
failures of our own past can serve as an example for emerging
economies — that it’s possible to grow without polluting; that
lasting prosperity comes not from what a nation consumes,
but from what it produces, and from the investments
it makes in its people and its infrastructure. And just as we must lead on
behalf of the prosperity of our citizens, so we must
safeguard their security. Our two nations know what it is
to confront evil in the world. Hitler’s armies would not have
stopped their killing had we not fought them on the beaches
and on the landing grounds, in the fields and
on the streets. We must never forget that there
was nothing inevitable about our victory in that terrible war. It was won through the courage
and character of our people. Precisely because we are
willing to bear its burden, we know well the cost of war. And that is why we built an
alliance that was strong enough to defend this continent
while deterring our enemies. At its core, NATO is rooted in
the simple concept of Article Five: that no NATO nation
will have to fend on its own; that allies will stand
by one another, always. And for six decades, NATO
has been the most successful alliance in human history. Today, we confront
a different enemy. Terrorists have taken the lives
of our citizens in New York and in London. And while al Qaeda seeks a
religious war with the West, we must remember that they have
killed thousands of Muslims — men, women and children
— around the globe. Our nations are not and will
never be at war with Islam. Our fight is focused on
defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies. In that effort, we
will not relent, as Osama bin Laden and his
followers have learned. And as we fight an enemy
that respects no law of war, we will continue to hold
ourselves to a higher standard — by living up to the values,
the rule of law and due process that we so ardently defend. For almost a decade, Afghanistan
has been a central front of these efforts. Throughout those years,
you, the British people, have been a stalwart ally, along
with so many others who fight by our side. Together, let us pay tribute to
all of our men and women who have served and sacrificed over
the last several years — for they are part of an unbroken
line of heroes who have borne the heaviest burden for the
freedoms that we enjoy. Because of them, we have
broken the Taliban’s momentum. Because of them, we have
built the capacity of Afghan security forces. And because of them, we are now
preparing to turn a corner in Afghanistan by transitioning
to Afghan lead. And during this transition, we
will pursue a lasting peace with those who break free of al
Qaeda and respect the Afghan constitution and lay down arms. And we will ensure that
Afghanistan is never a safe haven for terror, but is instead
a country that is strong, sovereign, and able to
stand on its own two feet. Indeed, our efforts in this
young century have led us to a new concept for NATO that will
give us the capabilities needed to meet new threats — threats
like terrorism and piracy, cyber attacks and
ballistic missiles. But a revitalized NATO will
continue to hew to that original vision of its founders, allowing
us to rally collective action for the defense of our people,
while building upon the broader belief of Roosevelt and
Churchill that all nations have both rights and
responsibilities, and all nations share a common
interest in an international architecture that
maintains the peace. We also share a common interest
in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. Across the globe, nations are
locking down nuclear materials so they never fall into
the wrong hands — because of our leadership. From North Korea to Iran, we’ve
sent a message that those who flaunt their obligations will
face consequences — which is why America and the European
Union just recently strengthened our sanctions on Iran, in large
part because of the leadership of the United Kingdom
and the United States. And while we hold
others to account, we will meet our own obligations
under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and strive for a world
without nuclear weapons. We share a common interest in
resolving conflicts that prolong human suffering and threaten
to tear whole regions asunder. In Sudan, after years of
war and thousands of deaths, we call on both North and South
to pull back from the brink of violence and choose
the path of peace. And in the Middle East, we stand
united in our support for a secure Israel and a
sovereign Palestine. And we share a common interest
in development that advances dignity and security. To succeed, we must cast
aside the impulse to look at impoverished parts of the
globe as a place for charity. Instead, we should empower the
same forces that have allowed our own people to thrive: We
should help the hungry to feed themselves, the doctors
who care for the sick. We should support countries
that confront corruption, and allow their
people to innovate. And we should advance the truth
that nations prosper when they allow women and girls to
reach their full potential. We do these things because we
believe not simply in the rights of nations; we believe in
the rights of citizens. That is the beacon that guided
us through our fight against fascism and our twilight
struggle against communism. And today, that idea is being
put to the test in the Middle East and North Africa. In country after country,
people are mobilizing to free themselves from the
grip of an iron fist. And while these movements for
change are just six months old, we have seen them play out
before — from Eastern Europe to the Americas, from South
Africa to Southeast Asia. History tells us that
democracy is not easy. It will be years before these
revolutions reach their conclusion, and there will be
difficult days along the way. Power rarely gives up without a
fight — particularly in places where there are divisions of
tribe and divisions of sect. We also know that populism can
take dangerous turns — from the extremism of those who would
use democracy to deny minority rights, to the nationalism that
left so many scars on this continent in the 20th century. But make no mistake:
What we saw, what we are seeing in Tehran,
in Tunis, in Tahrir Square, is a longing for the same
freedoms that we take for granted here at home. It was a rejection of the notion
that people in certain parts of the world don’t want to be
free, or need to have democracy imposed upon them. It was a rebuke to the
worldview of al Qaeda, which smothers the
rights of individuals, and would thereby subject
them to perpetual poverty and violence. Let there be no doubt: The
United States and United Kingdom stand squarely on the side of
those who long to be free. And now, we must show that
we will back up those words with deeds. That means investing in the
future of those nations that transition to democracy,
starting with Tunisia and Egypt — by deepening ties
of trade and commerce; by helping them demonstrate
that freedom brings prosperity. And that means standing
up for universal rights — by sanctioning those
who pursue repression, strengthening civil
society, supporting the rights of minorities. We do this knowing that the West
must overcome suspicion and mistrust among many in the
Middle East and North Africa — a mistrust that is
rooted in a difficult past. For years, we’ve faced charges
of hypocrisy from those who do not enjoy the freedoms
that they hear us espouse. And so to them, we must
squarely acknowledge that, yes, we have enduring interests in
the region — to fight terror, sometimes with partners
who may not be perfect; to protect against disruptions
of the world’s energy supply. But we must also insist that
we reject as false the choice between our interests
and our ideals; between stability and democracy. For our idealism is rooted in
the realities of history — that repression offers only the
false promise of stability, that societies are more
successful when their citizens are free, and that democracies
are the closest allies we have. It is that truth that
guides our action in Libya. It would have been easy at the
outset of the crackdown in Libya to say that none of this was
our business — that a nation’s sovereignty is more important
than the slaughter of civilians within its borders. That argument carries
weight with some. But we are different. We embrace a broader responsibility. And while we cannot
stop every injustice, there are circumstances that cut
through our caution — when a leader is threatening
to massacre his people, and the international community
is calling for action. That’s why we stopped
a massacre in Libya. And we will not relent until the
people of Libya are protected and the shadow of
tyranny is lifted. We will proceed with humility,
and the knowledge that we cannot dictate every outcome abroad. Ultimately, freedom must be
won by the people themselves, not imposed from without. But we can and must stand
with those who so struggle. Because we have always believed
that the future of our children and grandchildren will be better
if other people’s children and grandchildren are more
prosperous and more free — from the beaches of Normandy
to the Balkans to Benghazi. That is our interests
and our ideals. And if we fail to meet
that responsibility, who would take our place,
and what kind of world would we pass on? Our action — our leadership
— is essential to the cause of human dignity. And so we must
act — and lead — with confidence in our ideals,
and an abiding faith in the character of our people,
who sent us all here today. For there is one final quality
that I believe makes the United States and the United
Kingdom indispensable to this moment in history. And that is how we define
ourselves as nations. Unlike most countries
in the world, we do not define citizenship
based on race or ethnicity. Being American or British is not
about belonging to a certain group; it’s about believing
in a certain set of ideals — the rights of individuals,
the rule of law. That is why we hold incredible
diversity within our borders. That’s why there are people
around the world right now who believe that if
they come to America, if they come to New York,
if they come to London, if they work hard, they can
pledge allegiance to our flag and call themselves Americans;
if they come to England, they can make a new life for
themselves and can sing God Save The Queen just
like any other citizen. Yes, our diversity
can lead to tension. And throughout our history there
have been heated debates about immigration and assimilation
in both of our countries. But even as these
debates can be difficult, we fundamentally recognize that
our patchwork heritage is an enormous strength — that in
a world which will only grow smaller and more interconnected,
the example of our two nations says it is possible for people
to be united by their ideals, instead of divided
by their differences; that it’s possible for hearts to
change and old hatreds to pass; that it’s possible for the sons
and daughters of former colonies to sit here as members
of this great Parliament, and for the grandson of a Kenyan
who served as a cook in the British Army to stand
before you as President of the United States. (applause) That is what defines us. That is why the young men and
women in the streets of Damascus and Cairo still reach for the
rights our citizens enjoy, even if they sometimes
differ with our policies. As two of the most powerful
nations in the history of the world, we must always remember
that the true source of our influence hasn’t just been
the size of our economies, or the reach of our militaries,
or the land that we’ve claimed. It has been the values that we
must never waver in defending around the world — the idea
that all beings are endowed by our Creator with certain
rights that cannot be denied. That is what forged our bond
in the fire of war — a bond made manifest by the
friendship between two of our greatest leaders. Churchill and Roosevelt
had their differences. They were keen observers of
each other’s blind spots and shortcomings, if not
always their own, and they were hard-headed
about their ability to remake the world. But what joined the fates of
these two men at that particular moment in history was not simply
a shared interest in victory on the battlefield. It was a shared belief in the
ultimate triumph of human freedom and human dignity — a
conviction that we have a say in how this story ends. This conviction lives on
in their people today. The challenges we
face are great. The work before us is hard. But we have come through
a difficult decade, and whenever the tests and
trials ahead may seem too big or too many, let us
turn to their example, and the words that Churchill
spoke on the day that Europe was freed: “In the
long years to come, not only will the people of this
island but…the world, wherever the bird of freedom
chirps in the human heart, look back to what we’ve done,
and they will say ‘do not despair, do not yield…
march straightforward.'” With courage and purpose,
with humility and with hope, with faith in the
promise of tomorrow, let us march
straightforward together, enduring allies in the cause of
a world that is more peaceful, more prosperous, and more just. Thank you very much. (applause) Speaker:
Mr. President, I think that
response describes far more eloquently than any words of
mine could do how much that very memorable and inspiring address
was appreciated by everybody who heard it here today. You spoke — (applause) You spoke with great warmth
and great generosity about the British Parliament and the
British people and about the links that bind us, the
values and the traditions that we share. The history that we have
experienced together. But more than that, you
spoke too not just of the relationships of the past, but
the relationships of the future. And I think that was what made
what you said so inspirational. It was a distinguished American
governor of New York who remarked on the propensity of
politicians to campaign in poetry, but to govern in prose. The world you described to us
today was not just one that is prosaic; it was one where the
challenges are difficult and sometimes dangerous. One that is fast
moving, that is complex, sometimes contradictory. And that offers at least as
many threats as opportunities. But in the eloquence
of your address, you reminded us of the
importance of maintaining the poetry in government. Because to lead, that
poetry is necessary. Necessary not only to
articulate the challenges, as you did so masterfully. But also to bring others
together to face those challenges with common
principles and with shared purpose. Mr. President, it has been a
privilege for all of us to hear you speak today. It is a privilege for me to have
the responsibility of thanking you on behalf of both
Houses of Parliament, for coming to Westminster, and
to wish you and Mrs. Obama a very happy and pleasant
rest of your stay in the United Kingdom. Thank you so much. (applause)

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