Friday, April 3, 2009

A Town Hall in Strasbourg

"This is our generation. This is our time. And I am confident that we can meet any challenge as long as we are together," President Obama told a town hall in the Rhenus Sports Arena in Strasbourg, France. Having met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy immediately before, he reiterated a consistent theme of his trip, telling the audience he felt it was "important was for me to have an opportunity to not only speak with you but also to hear from you, because that's ultimately how we can learn about each other."
Before taking questions, though, the President spoke about his own views on the opportunities and necessities of international cooperation in the 21st Century, beginning with a new commitment to eliminating the existential threat of nuclear arms:

Even with the Cold War now over, the spread of nuclear weapons or the theft of nuclear material could lead to the extermination of any city on the planet. And this weekend in Prague, I will lay out an agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

We also know that the pollution from cars in Boston or from factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, and that that will disrupt weather patterns everywhere. The terrorists who struck in London, in New York, plotted in distant caves and simple apartments much closer to your home. And the reckless speculation of bankers that has new fueled a global economic downturn that's inflicting pain on workers and families is happening everywhere all across the globe.

The economic crisis has proven the fact of our interdependence in the most visible way yet. Not more than a generation ago, it would have been difficult to imagine that the inability of somebody to pay for a house in Florida could contribute to the failure of the banking system in Iceland. Today what's difficult to imagine is that we did not act sooner to shape our future.

While acknowledging that there was plenty of blame to go around, the President also confronted the "insidious" nature of anti-Americanism that has at times taken hold in various parts of the world. During the question-and-answer period he spoke to an issue at the heart of trans-Atlantic relations:

Q I just want to know what do you expect from the French and the European countries regarding the war on terror?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good. That's a good question. Look, I think that over the last seven, eight years, as I said in my speech, a lot of tensions have developed between the United States and Europe. And one of the legacies, I hope, from my administration is, is that we start bringing our historic alliance back together in a much more effective way.
Now, that doesn't mean that we're not going to have honest disagreements. All countries have disagreements between themselves. But I think that we can work much more effectively and cooperatively, and maintain that core trust that we have towards each other.

Nowhere have we seen more suspicion than around questions of war and peace and how we respond to terrorism. When 9/11 happened, Europe responded as a true friend would respond to the United States, saying, "We are all Americans." All of us have a stake in ensuring that innocent people who were just going about their business, going to work, suddenly find themselves slaughtered -- all of us have an interest in preventing that kind of vicious, evil act.

But after the initial NATO engagement in Afghanistan, we got sidetracked by Iraq, and we have not fully recovered that initial insight that we have a mutual interest in ensuring that organizations like al Qaeda cannot operate. And I think that it is important for Europe to understand that even though I'm now President and George Bush is no longer President, al Qaeda is still a threat, and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as President, suddenly everything is going to be okay.

President Obama and French President Sarkozy
President Barack Obama and France's President Nicolas Sarkozy stand together
Friday, April 3, 2009, during the review of an honor guard at the Palais Rohan
in Strasbourg, France. White House Photo/Pete Souza

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