More on Obama, exceptionalism, and impromptu speaking

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The transcript of the NATO press conference I mentioned a few hours ago is now available here, via CQ Politics. For some reason, I don't see the transcript at the official WhiteHouse.Gov site, though a blog item about the conference is here. Ie, if the transcript is there, at the site run by this famously tech-hip White House staff, it is not in an immediately obvious location, like via a link from the aforementioned blog entry, nor does it come up on a "NATO press conference" search of the site.

After the jump, the text of what Obama actually said when asked about "American exceptionalism." To my relief, it more or less resembles the way I characterized it from memory! On re-reading, I'm more impressed by how terse it is -- and, as mentioned earlier, how hard it would be to improve on it in the same space, especially in real time.

Also after the jump, two other excerpts, prompted by this comment from reader Edward Goldstick:

I think two other moments were even more 'remarkable' than the one that caught your attention (though it is, too):
 
1) In response to the provocative Major [Garrett] of Fox News who asked about Afghan laws that supposedly endorsed spousal rape and other dubious practices, I found that Obama walked confidently between the moral imperatives that the questioner presented so blithely and the primacy of the post 9/11 mission and the complex and uncomfortable realities in which the United States and NATO are currently operating.
 
2) Perhaps it was a setup, but I thought the question to the audience about US journalists getting questions from the other heads of state was a sly move... though I won't hide my lack of surprise (nor my glee) when he used Sarko as a target.

On #2, the context of which will be apparent in the excerpt, what I noticed was his light use of the term "Sarkozy" -- not "President Sarkozy" -- which had the same cheeky effect as the reference to "the Brits." Details below.
___
 

On American exceptionalism:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I'm enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don't think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we've got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we're not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can't solve these problems alone.

About women's rights in Afghanistan:

Q [Major Garrett]: Thank you, Mr. President, and good afternoon. I'd like to ask you about a law that's recently been passed in Afghanistan that affects the 10 percent of the Shia population there. A summary of it says it negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage, and restricts a woman's right to leave the home. The United Nations Development Fund for Women says this legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband. I'd like your assessment of this law, number one. Number two, will you condition future troop movements of the U.S. to Afghanistan on the basis of this law being retracted or rewritten? And if not, sir, what about the character of this law ought to motivate U.S. forces to fight and possibly die in Afghanistan?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, this was actually a topic of conversation among all the allies. And in our communication -- communiqué, you will see that we specifically state that part of this comprehensive approach is encouraging the respect of human rights. I think this law is abhorrent. Certainly the views of the administration have been, and will be, communicated to the Karzai government. And we think that it is very important for us to be sensitive to local culture, but we also think that there are certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle.

Now, I just want to remind people, though, why our troops are fighting, because I think the notion that you laid out, Major, was that our troops might be less motivated. Our troops are highly motivated to protect the United States, just as troops from NATO are highly motivated to protect their own individual countries and NATO allies collectively. So we want to do everything we can to encourage and promote rule of law, human rights, the education of women and girls in Afghanistan, economic development, infrastructure development, but I also want people to understand that the first reason we are there is to root out al Qaeda so that they cannot attack members of the Alliance.

Now, I don't -- those two things aren't contradictory, I think they're complementary. And that's what's reflected in the communiqué.

Q But do you object to the law --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We have stated very clearly that we object to this law. But I want everybody to understand that our focus is to defeat al Qaeda and ensure that they do not have safe havens from which they can launch attacks against the Alliance.

About reciprocity and "Sarkozy":

I'm going to take just two more questions and I'll -- from non-Americans. You guys weren't even on my list, but I'm adding you on so that -- and I want to make sure that the other world leaders treat my American colleagues well, too, though. (Laughter.) Did Sarkozy give you guys any questions? (Laughter.) You see there? There's got to be mutuality in the transatlantic relationship. (Laughter.)

Again, no dreaded teleprompter involved in any of these replies.

UPDATE: There is a CSPAN video of the conference here, with the "exceptionalism" question starting at about 19:35 and the "how you say it in Austrian" part at 28:30. And, Michael Scherer of Time also noticed the exceptionalism answer, here. Thanks to Hillel Schwartz and Andrew Perez. Update-update: YouTube of the question and answer here.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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