It was a very, very good speech that hit almost all the right notes. The right amount of flattery for Russia as a “great power” and for its cultural and scientific achievements (and I’m glad that, in mentioning the great 19th Century Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, Obama resisted the temptation to claim kinship with Pushkin due to the latter’s African ancestry, as a few Russian commentators semi-facetiously predicted he might). Recognition of Russia’s enormous sacrifice in World War II, a very big topic in Russia these days (though with a major missed opportunity to remind the audience that Russians repelled a foreign tyrant and butcher only to be re-victimized by a domestic one).
Also on the plus side: there were no apologies, no genuflection toward the official Russian point of view on NATO expansion or the missile shield. On the contrary, Obama once against emphasized that neither is a threat to Russia.
Obama strongly reiterated America’s commitment to democracy and freedom as universal, not just American values, devoting a prominent portion of his speech to “America’s interest in democratic governments that protect the rights of their people.”
By no means is America perfect. But it is our commitment to certain universal values which allows us to correct our imperfections, to improve constantly, and to grow stronger over time. Freedom of speech and assembly has allowed women, and minorities, and workers to protest for full and equal rights at a time when they were denied. The rule of law and equal administration of justice has busted monopolies, shut down political machines that were corrupt, ended abuses of power. Independent media have exposed corruption at all levels of business and government. Competitive elections allow us to change course and hold our leaders accountable. If our democracy did not advance those rights, then I, as a person of African ancestry, wouldn’t be able to address you as an American citizen, much less a President. …
So around the world, America supports these values because they are moral, but also because they work. The arc of history shows that governments which serve their own people survive and thrive; governments which serve only their own power do not. Governments that represent the will of their people are far less likely to descend into failed states, to terrorize their citizens, or to wage war on others. Governments that promote the rule of law, subject their actions to oversight, and allow for independent institutions are more dependable trading partners. And in our own history, democracies have been America’s most enduring allies, including those we once waged war with in Europe and Asia — nations that today live with great security and prosperity.
Moreover, in discussing Russia’s “rightful place” as a great power, Obama also delivered a devastating indictment of the Putin regime’s vision of the world — the vision that has been force-fed to the Russian public for the past decade by Kremlin ideologues.