(In response to the Iranian President’s request to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site.)
Fellow Americans and citizens of the world:
It is no secret that the U.S. and Iran governments are at odds on many fronts. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that we are enemies. Iran is sponsoring terrorism throughout the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan, where our soldiers are sometimes the victims. Iranian President Ahmadinejad has made thinly veiled threats against Israel, recently hosted a conference for Holocaust deniers, and has defied the United Nation’s mandate to curtail its nuclear program.
And now, before visiting this very same institution in New York City, he has asked that he be allowed to lay a wreath at the site of the greatest terrorist attack in our history.
Like many of you, my first reaction was disgust and anger.
But then I thought again about the great struggle we are in against the jihadists and the forces of extremism around the world.
Above all else, this is a struggle for hearts and minds. In the Cold War it was not military action that ended the strife, but the recognition that the Western system of free markets and democracy produced better outcomes and led to more prosperous societies. The same must happen today. Those in the Arab and Muslim world must come to realize that open societies, with human rights like freedom of speech and religion, are not tools of Western imperialism; instead they represent the highest aspirations of all peoples, including their own.
And so I put away my disgust and anger.
It is imperative to make clear that America has nothing to fear from the dictators and thugs of the world. We will win the war of ideas, and the jidadists and their ideology will be relegated to the dustbin of history. But we must engage in this battle in order to win it decisively.
And so I am welcoming the Iranian President to the World Trade Center site. His trip will demonstrate two things.
First, not that America is weak and bows to the whims of despots, but that America is a free society, one where even people with odious and objectionable views are allowed to express them. This is a sign of our strength and a signal to the Arab world: it is only the weak and desperate who restrict free speech and free expression, who limit people’s movements, who jail political dissidents.
Second, another key American trait is redemption. If the Iranian President truly wants to turn a new page by honoring our dead, let that be a first step towards a greater reconciliation. Let him withdraw his support for Hezbollah and Hamas; let him stop his nuclear program.
It is unlikely that Ahmadinejad will do any of these things. More than likely he will try to use his trip as a propaganda ploy. If this is the path he chooses, he will fail.
The world will see clearly that it is America that stands by its principles; that it is America that practices freedom, and not just preaches it; that it is America that offered goodwill even to its enemies in the hopes that they would change their ways; that it was America that allowed the President of Iran onto the site of our greatest and freshest wound, only to have him disrespect us.
And let it be known to all that America’s goodwill is not infinite; that we do not take it lightly when people abuse our goodwill and pursue policies of death and chaos; that when America finally loses its patience and is forced to bring its full resources to bear on those who want to harm us and our friends, that America was on the side of justice and the side of freedom.
Thank you my fellow Americans and citizens of the world.
Next Week: More on the competing notions about diplomacy and how to treat rogue actors on the world stage.