The answer is only sometimes, and that is sad. This country was founded through violent revolution against a tyrannical government. We created the most beautiful founding documents that any country ever has in the Declaration and our Constitution. The core of American exceptionalism lies in the idea that the people would always be secure in their personal liberty and that government would not be allowed to impose its will on them. That is the single boldest concept for government that has ever made it into reality. We fought to gain those freedoms we deemed the universal property of men, and we made sure that if our government ever became too oppressive the people knew they had the right and the tools to take it down.
There is one simple moral concept that could create peace on Earth, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". This is not a religious idea, although it is woven into many major religions. At the most basic level, a moral life requires only that you live without harming others in the process. It also creates a dilemma when some violate the rule and harm innocents out of sickness or for their own gain. On the individual level, this is something that should be taken care of at the most local level possible. If your neighbor beats his wife, stop him. If a mugger steals a purse, stop him. But when this oppression is perpetrated by the state, how can that be countered?
Think about an American Revolution in the modern day; could the citizenry overcome our military? Of course not. So one of two things needs to happen for a revolution to succeed now, either the military turns and joins the revolution, or an outside force intervenes. The question facing America is whether we have any legitimate, compelling interest in countering tyranny outside our own shores. I believe we do and always will. That by virtue of the fact that we can oppose evil, we are bound to in words and deeds. I am hardly alone in that.
John F. Kennedy
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty....
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility - I welcome it.
A people free to choose will always choose peace.
Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have.
Democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.
Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.
Protecting the rights of even the least individual among us is basically the only excuse the government has for even existing.
The Soviet Union is an Evil Empire, and Soviet communism is the focus of evil in the modern world”
George W. Bush (imagine Reagan's voice as you read this)
We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: the moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.
We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery.
All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.
The spirit of those words is distilled into a simple Latin phrase that is the motto of US Special Forces "De Oppresso Liber" To liberate from oppression. That captures the idea that we do not live in isolation. We cannot build a wall around America and ignore what happens on the other side. Even so, we are not bound to respond with force every time evil flourishes, we could not. But to quote Reagan again:
Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.
I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American. Iraqis will write their own history and find their own way.
It can also embolden those living under oppression to throw off their own shackles. Reagan's continued vocal and believable support inspired many who lived under the iron boot of the Soviet Union's communist totalitarianism. The Solidarity movement in Poland was one of the first to break free and its leader Lech Walesa knows who he wants to thank.
When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty. This can't be said often enough by people who lived under oppression for half a century, until communism fell in 1989.
Poles fought for their freedom for so many years that they hold in special esteem those who backed them in their struggle. Support was the test of friendship. President Reagan was such a friend. His policy of aiding democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe in the dark days of the Cold War meant a lot to us. We knew he believed in a few simple principles such as human rights, democracy and civil society. He was someone who was convinced that the citizen is not for the state, but vice-versa, and that freedom is an innate right.
So now we come to the current strife in the Middle East, with a shamefully repressive regime in Tunisia overthrown and a 30 year dictatorship in Egypt facing an open revolt of its citizens. We recently saw a nascent revolution in Iran brutally crushed when it could not over come the organs of state oppression and no major power intervened with words or acts to support it. Will these new sprouts of liberty also be scythed down, or will they take root and continue to serve as inspiration for prisoners of conscience in Iran, Egypt, Belarus, and yes China. We recently saw the grotesque spectacle of a US President honoring the head of the most oppressive state in the world today. We saw the winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize throw a State Dinner for the jailer of the 2010 Nobel Laureate.
Now the people of Egypt are struggling to take the reins of their own government, and we should expect the voice of America to support this universal right.
The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.
Excellent start and let's see how the United States will stand up for them in Egypt.
I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they’ve taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cell phone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.
He calls for the return of their Twitter accounts? Certainly he will recognize their legitimate right to overthrow their oppressors.
At the same time, those protesting in the streets have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully. Violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms that they seek.
Oh no, they have a "responsibility to express themselves peacefully"? I must strenuously disconcur. What they have is the same rights that we proclaimed, Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness. We did not gain those by expressing ourselves peacefully. We did not gain independence with the Revolutionary Sit In; we fought a bloody war of revolution and prevailed. We also had the support of a major power with words and deeds and absent that we would probably still be drinking tea and eating toast done on one side. But he will certainly remind the Mubarak government that after 30 years perhaps it is time to step aside and let the will of the people prevail.
The United States always will be a partner in pursuit of that future. And we are committed to working with the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people -- all quarters -- to achieve it.
Oh no, he just gave Mubarak a pass. He just told them that we will stand with the tyrant and simply ask that he be a more open, kind & loving dictator. It would have been better to say nothing. That is not leadership, but then it appears that our President does not believe in American leadership, nor does he understand American exceptionalism. He thinks it is well past time for America to take its proper place as just one of many and to bend to the will of the rest. That could not be more wrong. America is the only country capable of providing an example for the oppressed to strive for as well as the means to help them achieve it. If we fail to uphold our moral responsibilities, then we become less than we were and were meant to be. Fortunately the Egyptians may benefit from the other force that can help an internal revolt succeed, their own military. We don't know which way they will ultimately turn but initial signs are good.
The renewed crackdown has resulted in at least 18 dead and 900 wounded. But the regime appears to have weakened, not strengthened, itself in the process. The regime has been unable to stem the protests. It announced a curfew. Yet tens of thousands remained in the streets. The ruling party’s headquarters has gone up in flames. Reports abound of the burning of other police stations and party offices across the country. Crowds have thronged around those vehicles that have deployed into the streets. It appears in some cases that police and military units have stood down in the face of demonstrations. The military, for example, chose to protect the Egyptian Museum, but, importantly, not the party headquarters.
We cannot know what the results of an Egyptian revolution will bring, but the fear of unintended consequences should never outweigh the right of oppressed people to fight for their freedom. And it should not temper our active support of them anywhere they raise up for their own liberty.