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Finest US export: liberty

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The Fourth of July is an American holiday that goes uncelebrated in much of the rest of the world.

At home, the Stars and Stripes flutter. The pleasing aroma from backyard cookouts pervades the air. And as dusk descends, the skies explode with a crescendo of fireworks celebrating life, liberty, and happiness.

Abroad, America is seen as many things, not all of them complimentary. The US is rich and powerful, and that sometimes engenders envy, derision, and - as we have seen with the onset of terrorism - hatred.

America is not a perfect society, but it is truly a remarkable one. It is built on a desire for freedom, and a conviction on the part of most Americans that this freedom should not be hugged selfishly to themselves, but is a right to which all mankind is entitled.

It is a belief that has motivated Americans to fight against fascism in World War II, and for presidents like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to inveigh against the Berlin Wall and communism's "evil empire." It is a belief that underpins US attitudes toward the rest of the world even though US diplomacy is sometimes marred by missteps and miscalculations.

The desire for freedom is one of the great, driving historical forces of our times. I have watched it simmer, erupt, and surge in countries from South Africa, to Indonesia, to the Philippines, to Latin America, and to Russia and a host of countries in Eastern Europe. One of the most satisfying experiences in my life was a stint at the Voice of America during the bad old days of the cold war. From behind the Iron Curtain, notes and messages would trickle in, telling of Russians and other East Europeans who listened at some peril to VOA broadcasts, and who pleaded for continued broadcasts to keep the flame of liberty flickering.

People who have never known freedom still yearn for the freedoms that Americans take for granted - freedom to worship in the faith of their choice, to live where they want, to travel where they will, to work at a profession of their choosing in a free-market economy.

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