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Promising signs? Obama’s speech and where he gave it

Bret Stephens finds much to like in President Obama’s speech to India’s parliament. Acknowledging that the speech has its flaws (some of which Scott highlighted yesterday), Stephens calls it “a terrific speech . . . perhaps the best one of his presidency and potentially a true compass for the rest of it.”
Stephens points to the following passages, among others:

• Afghanistan: “While I have made it clear that American forces will begin the transition to Afghan responsibility next summer, I have also made it clear that America’s commitment to the Afghan people will endure. The United States will not abandon the people of Afghanistan–or the region–to the violent extremists who threaten us all.”
• Free trade: “Together we can resist the protectionism that stifles growth and innovation. The United States remains–and will continue to remain–one of the most open economies in the world. By opening markets and reducing barriers to foreign investment, India can realize its full economic potential as well.”
• The sources of India’s success: “Instead of resisting the global economy, you became one of its engines–reforming the licensing raj and unleashing an economic marvel.” The “licensing raj” refers to the regulatory state that used to dictate all “private” economic decision-making in the country and still dominates the country’s educational establishment.
• Terrorist attacks on India: “Here in this Parliament, which was itself targeted because of the democracy it represents, we honor the memory of all those who have been taken from us.” Mr. Obama is referring to the December 2001 terrorist attack on India’s parliament, in which six policemen and one civilian were murdered. But he is also taking aim at the idea, common among his progressive friends, that terrorists object to what free societies do–whether in Gaza, Iraq or Kashmir–rather than to what they are. To take the opposite view, as Mr. Obama now seems to have done, is to recognize that terrorists can never be mollified by political concessions, and that democracies live under a common threat. If that’s true of the U.S. and India, why not of the U.S. and Israel as well?

Obama has delivered good speeches abroad before, and my confidence that this one will prove to be a “true compass for the rest of his presidency” is low. More reassuring, perhaps, than the speech itself is the fact that he came to India for three days on a trip in which he will bypass China and Pakistan.

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