President Obama gave a speech last week in Moscow that conjures up memories of our greatest foreign policy presidents, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and John Kennedy. Two lines from Obama's address directly echo the themes and concerns of these three 20th century Democratic leaders.
First Obama stated: "Any world order that tries to elevate one nation or one group of people over another will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game -- progress must be shared."
And then he said: ""Now let me be clear: America cannot and should not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor should we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country."
His remarks are eerily reminiscent of two powerful speeches which President Franklin Roosevelt and his successor, President Harry Truman, delivered within four months of each other in 1945.
FDR said in March 1945: "We shall have to take responsibility for world collaboration, or we shall have to bear the responsibility for another world conflict."
And Truman's remarks in June 1945: "We all have to recognize -- no matter how great our strength -- that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please. No one nation, no regional group, can, or should expect, any special privilege which harms any other nation. If any nation would keep security for itself, it must be ready and willing to share security with all. That is the price which each nation will have to pay for world peace."
Finally there are John Kennedy's comments in his talk at the University of Washington on November 16, 1961: "In short, we must face problems which do not lend themselves to easy or quick or permanent solutions. And we must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient -- that we are only six percent of the world's population -- that we cannot impose our will upon the other ninety-four percent of mankind -- that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity -- and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem."
Obama's words represent a continuation of this historic tradition of internationalism in the Democratic Party that has helped build America into the most powerful land on earth. The Obama presidency gives hope for a return to such realistic multilateral diplomacy of yore in the coming years.