I have heard bits and pieces of Nicolas Sarkozy’s amazing speech before a joint-session of Congress last week, but I had not seen the whole thing until today. The link above will take you to the full text. Reading the whole, I discover that it is even more remarkable than my initial impressions conceived.
First, it is infused with deep, thoughtful and overwhelming gratitude for the United States and our struggles on behalf of liberty--not only, but especially, in and for France. No matter your level of skepticism toward France in recent years, it is impossible to read these words and not be moved to some level of forgiveness. Of course, this was the intended effect and it succeeds in spades. But there are less obvious--though equally meaningful--bits to ponder.
Note this bit:
America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who--with their hands, their intelligence and their heart--built the greatest nation in the world[emphasis added]: "Come, and everything will be given to you." She said: "Come, and the only limits to what you’ll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent."
This recognition of America’s greatness is extraordinary--even if the cynic in you is tempted to suggest that it is mere flattery. It cannot be easy for Sarkozy to say such things and thus we must conclude either that he deeply believes it or that he feels compelled to say it for the purpose of forging a meaningful union between us to protect France. Perhaps it is both. But throughout the speech Sarkozy meaningfully rejects the notion that France will or must be a mere recipient of the fruits of American strength and bounty. He wants Europe to rebuild its forces and he wants France to take the lion’s share of its own defense. In short, he wants the "only limits to [what France] will be able to achieve [to] be [her] own courage and [her] own talent." He notes that his generation admires America’s audacity. It appears that he is calling on them to imitate it in the defense of their own freedom.
This is all to the good but there is one key to friendship he leaves on our doorstep: trust. He calls on America not only to remain true to her own ideals, but to trust Europe and her ability to learn from the New World. As the older Washington in the service of a young Republic instructed (and yet often relied upon) the younger Lafayette who represented an old (but also then re-emerging) power, so too, must America trust Europe to transform itself and come to her senses. We must instruct but we must also trust . . . I say we trust, but verify.
Much more could be said (and certainly is being said)about this speech. Clearly, it is an important moment in our common history with France and may represent a turning point. Read the whole thing and see what you think.