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June 30, 2009

Obama, Enemy of Democracy and Human Rights

Long but strong WSJ on Obama's abandonment, both rhetorical and practical, of any kind of emphasis on democracy and human rights as US policy goals.

The writer scratches his head at Obama's headlong embrace of authoritarianism as the future of history:

At a glance, Obama's motives seemed readily apparent. Former State Department official J. Scott Carpenter observed that it was "obvious and understandable" that "the Obama administration wanted to distance itself from the tone and perceived baggage of the Bush administration." But there were two reasons why this explanation did not satisfy.

For one, Obama might have put his own stamp on the issue without turning so sharply away from the goals of human rights and democracy. In 1981, Ronald Reagan came to the presidency with a mandate analogous to Obama's, namely, to undo the works of an unpopular predecessor. At first, Reagan was inclined to eschew human rights as just another part of Jimmy Carter's wooly-minded liberalism. In an early interview, Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that the Reagan administration would promote human rights mostly by combating terrorism. But soon Reagan had second thoughts: instead of jettisoning the issue, he put his own distinctive spin on it by shifting the rhetoric and the program to focus more on fostering democracy.

In a similar vein, Obama could have faulted the Bush administration for its ineffectiveness in promoting democracy and promised that his own team would do it better. Indeed, Michael McFaul, who handled democracy issues in the Obama campaign, declared after the election that the new administration would "talk less and do more" about democratization than Bush had done. But when McFaul was appointed to the National Security Council staff, he was given the Russia portfolio rather than the job of overseeing democracy promotion. The latter task, which had been entrusted to senior staff during the Bush years, was given to no one.

The other reason why Obama's tack cannot be understood merely by his impulse to be unlike Bush is that his disinterest in democracy and human rights is global. The idea of promoting these values did not originate with Bush but with Carter and Reagan, reinforced by Bill Clinton. Bush's innovation was to apply this to the Middle East, which heretofore largely had been exempted. Repealing Bush's legacy would have meant turning the clock back on America's Middle East policy. But Obama scaled back democracy efforts not only there; he did it everywhere.

Yesterday on Brett Baier's show, Mara Liason played Obama-apologist by claiming that Obama didn't really want Chavez crony Zelaya returned to power; he really wanted him deposed, and was happy with the outcome. However, she contended, he was displeased by the way it was accomplished, and furthermore, needed to say he supported the re-installation of Zelaya. Even though he didn't.

This was a similar spin to what we heard on Obama's cautious even-handedness on Iran. Don't you think Obama really wants the democrats in Iran to prevail?, John Kerry asked rhetorically He answered rhetorically, too: "Come on."

Well, "Come on" is not an adequate answer for me. I'm afraid I am not on Obama's level of brilliance and so I do not understand that when he seems to support the mullahs in Iran, he really opposes them, and when he seems to support the unconstitutional dictator-for-life bid of a Hugo Chavez footboy, he really strenuously opposes it.

Nor do I comprehend how in one instance silence is necessary to dispel any suggestion of "meddling," but in another instance it is necessary to directly intervene to dispel the accusation of "meddling."

Nor do I understand, when it comes right down to it, why it is the most powerful elected official of the most powerful nation on earth must so frequently resort to the puerile lies of a Mean Girl, so limited is he by peer pressure.

I do not understand why it is that Obama cannot merely say he supports democrats and liberalizers and reformers, if he does indeed support them, nor why he cannot say he opposes tyrants and leftist coups, if he does indeed oppose them.

And I don't really understand why those sympathetic to Obama are so easily satisfied by telling themselves "He must just be lying about something it's not necessary nor useful to lie about."

Maybe I, like the last president I voted for, George W. Bush, lack the nuance of Barack Obama, but generally I seem to think that if you support someone, you say so, and if you oppose someone, you say that too.

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posted by Ace at 02:30 PM

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