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There were also hints of Obama’s ambivalence toward human rights and democracy-building in his inaugural address. Although he informed “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent” that they “are on the wrong side of history,” he blithely promised to “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
In his first year in office, he not only extended an open hand of friendship to the likes of Venezuela’s Chavez and Putin’s puppets, he averted his gaze and was virtually mute during Iran’s failed Twitter Revolution. The sad irony of Obama’s quiet, cold and calculating reaction to the stirrings of democracy in Iran was that it answered his own rhetorical question of a year before, albeit in a manner his supporters would never have imagined: “Will we stand for the human rights of…the blogger in Iran?” he asked as a candidate, during his speech in Berlin. We learned the answer in Iran.
As his first term progressed, he pressed for a “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, premised largely on atmospherics and appearances. The photo-ops, grinning handshakes and treaty-signing toasts were more important, apparently, than Moscow’s strangulation of the rule of law and democracy.
In a similar way, craving the imagery and optics of a successful summit to highlight the differences between him and his predecessor, Obama cancelled a 2009 meeting with the Dalai Lama. True, Obama would meet the Tibetan leader a year later, but the world took notice of the president’s cave-in, and Beijing got what it wanted.
It was also in 2009 that Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, announced, “The foreign policy of the United States is built on the three Ds: defense, diplomacy and development.” Noticeably, strikingly, jarringly absent was something nearly every administration since Woodrow Wilson has, at least rhetorically, promoted: democracy. In fact, this fourth “D” has defined U.S. foreign policy from the very beginning. Tellingly, in her unveiling of Obama’s “three D” foreign policy, Clinton never even uttered the words “democracy,” “freedom” or “human rights.”
Finally, Obama used a recess appointment to post an ambassador in Damascus to talk with the thugs who run Syria. The U.S. hasn’t had an ambassador there since 2005. Given Syria’s actions in Lebanon and Iraq, the younger Bush and his advisors concluded that having an ambassador in Damascus did no good, so not having one would do no harm. They were right.
Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.
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