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Extreme Makeover: Democracy Edition

Obama’s speech yesterday at the UN General Assembly covered a lot of issues, but the one topic that stuck out to me was the overt mention the US’s actions to encourage democracy abroad.  Some people worried that democracy promotion was going to take a back seat in the new administration, but if this speech is any indication – I think we can be hopeful that it will still be high on the agenda.  Democracy promotion could use a makeover, at least a PR makeover, as it has been too often associated with regime change in the last few years.  Here are some related quotes from the speech:

I took office at a time when many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust. Part of this was due to misperceptions and misinformation about my country. Part of this was due to opposition to specific policies, and a belief that on certain critical issues, America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others. And this has fed an almost reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for collective inaction.

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After all, it is easy to walk up to this podium and point fingers and stoke divisions. Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles, and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actions. Anybody can do that. Responsibility and leadership in the 21st century demand more.

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Our efforts to promote peace, however, cannot be limited to defeating violent extremists. For the most powerful weapon in our arsenal is the hope of human beings — the belief that the future belongs to those who would build and not destroy; the confidence that conflicts can end and a new day can begin.

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I believe that the people of the world want this future for their children. And that is why we must champion those principles which ensure that governments reflect the will of the people. These principles cannot be afterthoughts — democracy and human rights are essential to achieving each of the goals that I’ve discussed today, because governments of the people and by the people are more likely to act in the broader interests of their own people, rather than narrow interests of those in power.

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The test of our leadership will not be the degree to which we feed the fears and old hatreds of our people. True leadership will not be measured by the ability to muzzle dissent, or to intimidate and harass political opponents at home.

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For just as no nation should be forced to accept the tyranny of another nation, no individual should be forced to accept the tyranny of their own people.

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Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside. Each society must search for its own path, and no path is perfect. Each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its people and in its past traditions. And I admit that America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy. But that does not weaken our commitment; it only reinforces it. There are basic principles that are universal; there are certain truths which are self-evident — and the United States of America will never waver in our efforts to stand up for the right of people everywhere to determine their own destiny.

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