'History . . . Has Always Been Up to Us'

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 7, 2009

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France, June 6 -- President Obama urged the world Saturday to live up to the sacrifice made by thousands of Allied soldiers who struggled to shore here 65 years ago on D-Day, telling a hushed audience that "the selflessness of a few was able to change the course of an entire century."

"For you remind us that in the end, human destiny is not determined by forces beyond our control," Obama said during a ceremony commemorating the invasion. "Our history has always been the sum total of the choices made and the actions taken by each individual man and woman. It has always been up to us."

Obama's speech at the bluff-top cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach served to underscore the message he has sought to deliver throughout his trip to the Middle East and Europe. Using a mix of criticism and understanding, he has urged rivals and allies to work now to resolve conflicts based on his view of how their national interests coincide with those of the United States.

In Cairo, he appealed for a "new beginning" between the United States and Muslim nations, and at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany he demanded an end to religious and ethnic persecution, an implicit reference to Iran's leaders who deny the Jewish state of Israel's right to exist.

In his European meetings, Obama received support from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for his Middle East diplomacy, which he hopes will show progress this year.

But Obama also encountered concern from Merkel over his fiscal spending plans, which long-term projections show would add trillions of dollars to the national debt and could risk the U.S. credit rating and bring inflation. Advisers said he pledged to bring the budget into better balance, in part by reining in spending once the economy has recovered. And neither Merkel nor Sarkozy made new commitments to take any Guantanamo Bay detainees, as Obama works to meet his January deadline to close the military prison.

In office just over five months, Obama has offered what he has called a clear-eyed appraisal of the world's troubles, at times implicating allies such as Israel and his own country in failing to address them squarely. He used the term "occupation" to describe Israel's presence in the Palestinian territories, for example, and said that "the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" there.

Even in his remarks Saturday, he noted that the Allied countries that defeated Nazi fascism were "not perfect." At several stops, he asked other nations to be equally honest in order to make progress on peace in the Middle East, curb Iran's nuclear ambitions and slow global warming.

"In his candor with all the interlocutors on this trip, the president is trying to move past the diversions that have hindered their joining us in taking the requisite steps to enhance our national security," said Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. "That's what this candor is all about."

Obama follows other U.S. presidents who have traveled to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial to remember the dead and thank them, along with the surviving veterans whose number declines each year.

The thousands gathered at the grave sites, where 9,387 soldiers lie beneath bone-white crosses and Stars of David, included active-duty troops, heads of state and Hollywood stars.

Actor Tom Hanks, who came ashore on D-Day in the movie "Saving Private Ryan," posed for pictures with fans.

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