Remarks at the U.S. Embassy Independence Day Reception
July 3, 2012
Distinguished guests, colleagues, and friends, welcome to our celebration of the 236th anniversary of the American Revolution. This year also marks the 225th anniversary of the drafters of the U.S. Constitution reversing the course of history with three little words: “We the people.”
Until that time, constitutions primarily told the people what their privileges were. The U.S. Constitution, however, was a novel document because it turned the tables of history: we the people told the government what it could and could not do. This underlying principle – that the people are sovereign – has shaped the course of U.S. history for more than two centuries, and continues to do so to this day.
The authors of the U.S. Constitution placed a particular emphasis on protecting individual rights, and the first ten amendments to the Constitution protect our freedom of religion, association, and speech, to name just a few.
The durability of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and the belief that governments cannot restrict certain basic rights, further demonstrate the wisdom of our founding fathers.
The revolution in Tunisia proved – as did the revolutions that followed in Libya and Egypt and Syria – that these are not simply American values, but universal values.
Je voudrais répéter en français: Les auteurs de la Constitution américaine ont bien insisté sur la protection des droits individuels, et les premiers dix amendements de la Constitution protègent notre liberté de culte, d’association, et d’expression, pour ne citer que ceux-là.
La durabilité de la Déclaration des Droits et de la Constitution, et le principe que les gouvernements ne peuvent pas restreindre certains droits élémentaires, confirment la sagesse de nos pères fondateurs.
La Révolution en Tunisie a démontré – comme l’ont fait les révolutions qui l’ont suivi en Libye, en Egypte, et en Syrie – que ces valeurs ne sont pas seulement américaines, mais bien universelles.
Having deposed a dictator, you are now working to build a durable democracy and a prosperous society. We, the people of the United States, stand with you, the Tunisian people, as you confront difficult economic challenges. We are working closely with the Tunisian government, and the Tunisian business community, to help expand economic opportunities and realize the prosperity that this great country is destined for.
Just as the United States was a beacon of liberty in its early days – and remains so to this day – the Tunisia of today holds so much promise for its people and the world. For in this young nation, descended from ancient civilizations, we have seen that the achievement of nationhood is not an end, but a beginning.
When I was a university student, conventional wisdom held that democracy was not likely or even possible in Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East.
One need only look at the inspirational leadership of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, or Corazon Aquino in the Philippines, to see that history has proven the skeptics wrong. Region by region, those who aspire for democracy have achieved it.
And today, Tunisia has also provided a resounding answer to those who argued that Islamic or Arab culture is incompatible with democracy. For your future is as promising as your past is proud, and we know that your destiny lies not as an oasis of peaceful prosperity in a desert of troubles, but as a maker and shaper of world peace.
The size of the nation that seeks world peace and freedom does not matter, for, to paraphrase the American statesman William Jennings Bryan, “the humblest nation of all the world, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error.”
Today, Tunisia is clad in the armor of a righteous cause – democracy – and the success of the transition in Tunisia will serve as a model and an inspiration for the region and indeed the world.
Over the past year, the October elections, the work on the Constitution, and your leadership in seeking to stop the terrible bloodshed in Syria have shown that Tunisia’s most talented women and men are fully engaged in pursuit of justice and peace. Tunisia has shown the world that it is not only ready for democracy, but is already practicing it.
Tunisia and the United States have a long tradition of friendship and partnership. Just as Tunisia was one of the first countries to sign a treaty with the newly independent United States, we were the first power to recognize your independence in 1956.
Thomas Jefferson was our first President to live in the White House, and he hosted the first iftar there in 1803, for a Tunisian envoy.
During the Second World War, young American soldiers shed their blood and, too often, lost their lives, in small towns with names such as Sidi Bouzid, Thala, and Kasserine – just as, seventy years later, young Tunisian activists would do the same, freeing Tunisia from oppression and dictatorship.
Just as we are joined by this common sacrifice, we are united by common values.
That is why we Americans feel at home here. I am happy that I have been able to call Tunisia my home for the past three years, just as I am honored to have had the privilege to have served as the first American ambassador to a free and democratic Tunisia.
It has truly been a privilege to bear witness to the Tunisian revolution. I will always be inspired by memories of the crowds on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, calling for democracy, or the long lines of people patiently and patriotically waiting to vote on that warm October day just nine months later.
Connie and I and our entire family feel blessed to have made so many close friends over the past three years, and deeply appreciate how warmly you have welcomed us.
My friends, Tunisia’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world, and we as a people have reason to celebrate and look forward to a future of peace with freedom.
Thank you for joining us, and please enjoy the rest of the evening.