Today in New York City, President Barack Obama participated in the United States Mission to the United Nations Building dedication of the federal building in memory of the late Ron Brown, a Democratic trailblazer and the first black commerce secretary.
Brown served in the Clinton administration after helping him win the 1992 presidential election as Democratic Party chief. He was killed nearly 15 years ago in a plane crash while on a trade mission to the former Yugoslavia.
The newly named Ronald H. Brown Building is located across the street from U.N. headquarters. It will be home for the delegation representing the U.S.
In Bill Clinton's introductory remarks, the former president praised Obama for his handling of Libya. Obama also connected Brown's legacy to his own philosophy on U.S. intervention.
An excerpt from the president's speech:
… And Ron Brown understood America's unique role in the world. He had that blend of idealism and realism, which recognizes that when we advance the prosperity of others, we advance our interests. The scope of our influence, the values that we care so deeply about, they ripple around the world. And that's good for us.
That's why he invested so much time and energy in Africa. It's why he argued that economic progress and human rights can’t be separated. That's why he called commerce and economic development the "infrastructure of democracy." "That's why he was on that flight to the Balkans — because, he said, just as America "took the lead in the peace process, we need to show the way in rebuilding from the ruins of war."
We need to show the way. That was what Ron Brown did. And that's what America and our tireless diplomats do every single day, around the world and here at the United Nations. And so on an occasion such as this, we don't just dedicate a building; we also rededicate ourselves to the principles that guide us, as a sovereign nation but also as a member of the international community.
We believe, as we declared in the charter of this institution, "in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth" of all people and "in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small." And so, as united nations, we address the conditions that make the world more just and conflict less likely — caring for children, tending to the sick, keeping the peace in places that are wracked by conflict, speaking out for the rights and dignity of every human being.
We believe that just as every sovereign nation has rights, that they also have fundamental responsibilities. Governments exist not simply to perpetuate themselves, their own rule, but to fulfill the aspirations of their people. And history teaches us that nations are more secure and the world is more peaceful when nations meet these responsibilities — to uphold human rights, to resolve differences peacefully, when we advance our interests together.
We believe that when nations fail to meet these basic obligations — when peace is threatened or international law is undermined — that we cannot stand idly by. The words of the charter must have meaning. The writ of the international community must have credibility. Violations of these core principles must have consequences.
Because what we've learned from bitter experience - from the wars that were not prevented, the innocent lives that were not saved — is that all that's necessary for evil to triumph is that good people and responsible nations stand by and do nothing. There are times — as when President Clinton showed extraordinary leadership in the Balkans, and moments such as now in the situation in Libya — where our conscience and our common interests compel us to act.
We believe that force should not be the first option. We understand the costs and risks involved in the use of force. So, whenever possible, we turn to alternatives that might change behavior — condemnation that puts violators on notice, sanctions that increase pressure, embargoes that block arms to aggressors and accountability for those who commit crimes. And should those prove insufficient, we have to be prepared to take the necessary measures to uphold international peace and security and protect innocent people. That's what we're doing in Libya, in large part because of the extraordinary work of some people in this room.
And finally, we believe that the world is more secure and the interests of the United States are best advanced, when we act collectively. As I said last night, the burden of action should not always be America's alone. So in Libya today we see a broad and growing coalition, including Arab partners. And I had to apologize to President Clinton before he walked out because he never sees his wife. [Laughter.]
But the extraordinary work she's doing in London today, the extraordinary work that she's done over the past several months is part of that core understanding that when we act together, it's a force multiplier. Today we see the NATO Alliance in command of the arms embargo, the no-fly zone; starting tomorrow, the mission to protect the Libyan people. We see the United Nations and many international organizations providing the assistance that's needed to people who've been harmed by Qaddafi over the last several weeks. Today in London we're seeing more than 30 nations and the Libyan opposition come together to support a transition to a future that better serves the Libyan people.
That's how the international community should work: more nations; the United States right there at the center of it, but not alone; everybody stepping up, bearing their responsibilities, carrying the costs of upholding peace and security. That’s what it means to be united nations. That was the vision imagined by the founders of this institution.
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