July 1, 2016; 20:00
Your Excellency, Deputy Foreign Minister Niyazliyev, fellow ambassadors, esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening! Thank you for coming. I thank as well President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov for his continued support of the ever-strengthening bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkmenistan.
Of course, I thank our sponsors, without whose generosity today’s festivities would not be possible.
An even twelve score years ago, our forefathers brought forth on the North American continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal.
In 1776 American patriots declared independence from their colonial masters, and a quarter century ago Turkmenistan declared its independence. We share a heritage as independent, sovereign nations. We share a goal of freedom—freedom from tyranny, from want, and from war. As a former colony the United States supports Turkmenistan’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and we understand how important these are to the people of Turkmenistan. As an entrepreneurial nation, we support Turkmenistan’s entrepreneurship, including construction of the TAPI natural gas pipeline to India, and of a natural gas pipeline to Europe.
At today’s celebration, we point to freedom in three realms: freedom of speech, freedom of entrepreneurship, and freedom in educational opportunity.
The underpinnings of democracy and a free society are many, but none is more important than freedom of speech.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1791, guarantees the single most important right we, the people, have: the right to speak our minds, and to be heard. The Constitution of Turkmenistan guarantees the same right, in Article 28.
We encourage freedom of speech around the world. Freedom of speech, a free press, and freedom of expression shine the light of truth into dark places. Freedom of speech gives voice to the voiceless and exposes corruption. Freedom of speech curbs abuse of power.
Let us renew our commitment on this Day of Independence to the ideal of free speech in all corners of the globe. When this basic right is suppressed, when speech stops being free, democracy risks failure.
Today, we also celebrate a heritage of independent American business. You might ask how business relates to freedom. The U.S. economy, the largest and most resilient economy in the world, is built on private enterprise that rewards innovation and does not penalize failure. American entrepreneurs are free. They are free to take risks, free to try new ideas, and if they fail the first, second, or third times, they are free to try again.
We can draw examples of this from America’s agrarian past. In the 1830s Cyrus Hall McCormick, a young inventor in his 20s, perfected the horse-drawn mechanical grain reaper, which revolutionized agriculture. In 1837, John Deere, a blacksmith in his 30s, invented the self-scouring steel plow, which opened more land for cultivation.
We didn’t stop there. As America was transformed from an agrarian nation to an industrial and then post-industrial nation, we continued to innovate.
Nearly two centuries later, thanks to the freedom to experiment, to try, to fail, and to try again, the founders of Intel, Microsoft and Google transformed not just the American economy, but brought the entire world online.
These and other companies profited from being left alone to innovate and to improve our lives. Should I also mention that two of these founders, Andy Grove of Intel and Sergey Brin of Google, came to America as immigrants?
But if large corporations such as they, as well as Boeing, Case New Holland, John Deere, and General Electric, are the global face of American business, the true heart of American entrepreneurship lies our nearly 30 million small businesses. Close to half of all Americans employed in the private sector work in small businesses, and small firms make up 98% of all U.S. companies that export goods and services. Small firms produce 16 times as many patents as do large firms. The freedom to grow, and the freedom to innovate, to invent, underpin America’s prosperity and democracy.
So where do we go from here?
Our future is written in our classrooms. The freedom afforded to American teachers and schools ensures that we have the best qualified human capital in the world. Locally and democratically elected school boards oversee the operation of our secondary schools. We have over three times as many private universities as we do public ones: 2,200 private versus 700 public. In addition, though not one of them is subordinated to the U.S. Department of Education, many of them rank among the world’s top tier academic institutions year after year.
According to the Times World University Rankings for 2015-2016, U.S. universities constitute 14 out of the top 20 universities in the world. Of these, 12 are private and only two are public universities. I am very pleased to mention that number 15 on the list of best universities in the world is Columbia University, where Ann’s and my daughter will enroll this fall in a graduate program.
These universities are not merely among the best in the world. They draw students from around the world. We recognize that many seek ways to obtain a high-quality, U.S.-style education, an education that supports entrepreneurship, innovation, and prosperity. Here, in Turkmenistan, we share our successful system through student and professional exchanges, and placement of English language fellows in Turkmen universities.
We look forward to expanding this cooperation so that Turkmenistan will benefit more and more from U.S. academic excellence.
I invite you to view the displays throughout this hall that detail accomplishments and opportunities in these three realms: freedom of speech, free enterprise, and freedom to pursue education.
At tonight’s reception, I invite you as well to sample American cuisine. My wife, Ann, and our chief, Aylara, have collaborated with the hotel’s chef de cuisine to prepare a marvelous feast that celebrates our heritage of independence.
You’ll find clam chowder, a staple in New England during colonial times, as well as chicken gumbo from the Deep South and tomato soup from the American West. These dishes reflect the creativity of our ancestors in using local ingredients to create an American diet. They remind us of America’s origins on this 240th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States of America, I wish you all a very happy Fourth of July.