But as you walk the streets of Washington, it is harder to discount America's quiet homage to foreign liberators -- statues built decades apart without self-consciousness and without any larger architectural (let alone political) plan. They have but one thing in common: They share America's devotion to liberty. Liberty not just here but everywhere. Indeed, liberty for its own sake.
America has long proclaimed this principle, but in the post-9/11 era, it has pursued it with unusual zeal and determination. Much of the world hears America declare the spread of freedom the centerpiece of its foreign policy and insists nonetheless that America's costly sacrifices in Iraq and even Afghanistan are nothing more than classic imperialism in search of dominion, oil, pipelines or whatever such commodity most devalues America's exertions. The overwhelming majority of Americans refuse to believe that. Whatever their misgivings about the cost and wisdom of these wars, they know how deep and authentic is the American devotion to liberty.
Many around the world find such sentiments and the accompanying declarations hard to credit. Europeans, in particular, with their long tradition of realpolitik, cannot conceive of a Great Power actually believing such hopeless idealism.
The skepticism is misplaced. It is not just that brave Americans soldiers die to permit Iraqis and Afghans to vote for the first time in their lives. There is evidence closer to home and of older pedigree. The skeptics might take a stroll through America's other great capital. Up New York's Sixth Avenue with its series of seven sculptures to Latin American leaders, culminating at Central Park with magnificent statues of Bolivar, Marti and San Martin. To Washington Square Park, where they will find the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi, while his more republican counterpart, Mazzini, resides along West Drive not very far from Lajos Kossuth, now of Riverside Drive, hero of the Hungarian revolution of 1848.
This is not for show. It is from the heart, the heart of a people conceived in liberty and still believing in liberty. How can they not? It is written in stone all around them.
This is what I have always felt about America and Americans. That our greatest value is Freedom and that, whatever the flaws in the leaders we elect, that we believe in Liberty for its own sake.
And while we occasionally stray off course, there is no other country in the world that has so consistently supported Liberty with both life and fortune; no other country that has so often been a force for Good, confronting those who would enslave and destroy the human soul.
I am most proud that my generation has faced down one of the greatest evils in history; and that today-- despite the always cynical and frequently malevolent forces that assert otherwise; and whose goal is to undermine and distort that tradition-- America still represents the promise of Liberty for all; and that Americans will still always stand up proudly and fight, if necessary, to keep that promise.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We . . . solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states. . . And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."