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
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
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 --
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
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.