Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power — it must be the purpose behind it. In South Sudan — with our assistance — the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: “This was a battlefield for most of my life. Now we want to be free.”
We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.
We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.
My husband, a native of Tunisia, who has been following events there minute by minute with great interest, using the internet, Skype, and emails to communicate with family and friends in that North African nation, certainly perked up when he heard President Obama stand with the democratic desire of the Tunisian populace.
Earlier in the evening, before hearing the President’s speech, we had been to the Dona Gracia chapter of Hadassah in center city, where our friend Jerry Sorkin, who runs a touring agency called TunisUSA, and who was flying to Tunisia the very next day, gave an edifying lecture on the history of the Jewish community in Tunisia and the unique nature of the Tunisian psyche.
Unlike other Arab countries, Tunisia has always lived side by side with their Jewish citizens. In fact, there is a Jewish senator in the Tunisian Parliament. And Tunisians who have migrated to France and Israel feel comfortable in returning to Tunisia once or twice a year to celebrate Jewish holidays.
In analyzing the unfolding events of the Tunisian revolution, Sorkin pointed out that there have not been any examples of Tunisian turning against Tunisian, no example of hostility against other countries, no incidents of anti-Semitic behavior.
Senator Bob Casey spoke to members of the media by phone after the President’s remarks, and I got a chance to ask him his reaction to the President’s comments on Tunisia.
Senator Casey is the Chairman of the Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee which has jurisdiction over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel and the Middle East. So he must be watching events unfolding in Tunisia with particular interest.
Senator Casey said that, regarding the Tunisia question, there was “bipartisan consensus.” He continued,
Whether it is Tunisia or democratic movements in Iran or around the world, we’ve always been a beacon of light for the democratic forces. And that continues in our support for the people of Tunisia – it’s a situation in a place that bears a lot of watching and vigilance. I think it was very important that the President, with the full support of the Congress, as you saw, is in full support of Tunisia.
More after the jump.
Although Senator Casey called it “a very strong speech, especially about jobs,” he wants to look more closely at the President’s pledge to cut domestic spending for the next five years. Casey wants to see how this might impact on Pennsylvania.
He expressed great pride that the President and Mrs. Obama had three people from Pennsylvania seated in places of honor, plus the mention of Scranton, the birthplace of Vice President Biden, and the hometown of Senator Casey was well. Casey pointed out that, even though Brandon Ford, the junior from West Philadelphia High School’s Automotive Academy was not mentioned in the President’s speech, he was seated on the front row of the First Lady’s box.
Although Casey and Senator Pat Toomey, the new Republican senator, had originally planned to sit together in the chamber for the State of the Union address, there were no seats left together. So they did walk in together, and Toomey made it a pint to come find Casey after the speech so they could walk out together.
In a lighter vein, Senator Casey pointed out that the President did not predict the outcome of the Super Bowl, but Casey expressed confidence that the Pittsburgh Steelers will win.