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Sunday, June 28, 2009

SPECIAL PREVIEW: The Abandonment of Democracy

Foreign policy expert Joshua Muravchik pens a devastating critique of the administration's abandonment of democracy promotion.

SPECIAL PREVIEW: The Abandonment of Democracy

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.

Thus for example, Clinton, on a first state visit to China, told reporters she would not say much about human rights or Tibet because “our pressing on those issues can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.” Amnesty International declared it was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by her words. Unfazed, Clinton moved on to Russia, where she glibly presented its dictator, Vladimir Putin, with a toy “reset button” even while the string of unsolved murders of independent journalists that has marked his reign continued to lengthen.

To be sure, China and Russia are powerful countries with which Washington must do business across a range of issues, and because of their importance, all U.S. administrations have been guilty of unevenness in lobbying them to respect human rights. However, the Obama administration has downplayed human rights not only with the likes of Beijing and Moscow but also with weak countries whose governments have no leverage over America.

For example, Clinton ordered a review of U.S. sanctions against the military dictatorship of Burma because they haven’t “influenced the Burmese government.” This softening may have emboldened that junta to place opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on trial in May after having been content to keep her under house arrest most of the last eighteen years. The government of Sudan is even weaker and more of an international pariah than Burma’s, but the Obama administration also let it be known that it was considering easing Bush-era sanctions applied against Khartoum in response to the campaign of murder and rape in Darfur. According to the Washington Post:

Many human rights activists have been shocked at the administration’s apparent willingness to consider easing sanctions on Burma and Sudan. The Obama presidential campaign was scornful of Bush’s handling of the killings in Sudan’s Darfur region, which Bush labeled as genocide, but since taking office, the administration has been caught flat-footed by Sudan’s recent ousting of international humanitarian organizations.

While it is hard to see any diplomatic benefit in soft-pedaling human rights in Burma and Sudan, neither has Obama anything to gain politically by easing up on regimes that are reviled by Americans from Left to Right. Even so ardent an admirer of the President as columnist E. J. Dionne, the first to discern an “Obama Doctrine” in foreign policy, confesses to “qualms” about “the relatively short shrift” this doctrine “has so far given to concerns over human rights and democracy.”

So from George W. Bush's second inaugural

"So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

to the Obama administration's

"Let’s put ideology aside. That is so yesterday."

YAY! We're all Realists now!


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