Yesterday I got a chance to read an English translation of French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s speech from at the Munich security conference over the weekend. I thought this part was interesting:
What has history taught us? That no empire, even the largest, can defeat the longing for freedom. All of us, in the course of our history, have found ourselves confronted with this painful reality. All of us, not just in the twentieth century, with the dissillusionment of the USSR, but when we look back at our history, at some point have thought we were an empire able to treat others’ longing for freedom with disdain.
It isn’t just in Europe that there’s a longing for freedom; it’s all over the world. We have all — and, in her history, like others, France has — had to deal with great disillusionment when we forgot that freedom was for everyone.
Not so long ago this kind of anti-imperialist sentiment would have been commonplace in the United States. Certainly FDR and Harry Truman took the view that part of forging the alliance with England and France to fight Nazism and Communism required the U.S. to pressure those countries to disband their empires. More recently, we’ve lost sight of these issues, and under the administration of George W. Bush it became commonplace to argue that to support an international agenda aimed at “freedom” actually required the United States to espouse the coercive military domination of foreign countries. Sarkozy has found a way to push back on that attitude that, both rightly and politely, puts the recent errors of American policy in a broader context not as some unique sin of ours but as a sin of hubris that’s been repeatedly engaged in by a variety of countries and that we all need to collectively overcome.