Joshua Muravchik, writing in Commentary:
The most surprising thing about the first half-year of Barack Obama’s presidency, at least in the realm of foreign policy, has been its indifference to the issues of human rights and democracy. No administration has ever made these its primary, much less its exclusive, goals overseas. But ever since Jimmy Carter spoke about human rights in his 1977 inaugural address and created a new infrastructure to give bureaucratic meaning to his words, the advancement of human rights has been one of the consistent objectives of America’s diplomats and an occasional one of its soldiers.
This tradition has been ruptured by the Obama administration. The new president signaled his intent on the eve of his inauguration, when he told editors of the Washington Post that democracy was less important than “freedom from want and freedom from fear. If people aren’t secure, if people are starving, then elections may or may not address those issues, but they are not a perfect overlay.”
There is, of course, some truth in Obama’s point. If people are starving, they are likely to care more about their next meal than about what may seem to them as the relatively abstract rights to voting, free speech, etc. But what Obama is missing here is that the cause-and-effect flows in both directions. Societies that have economic and political freedom are far more likely to develop economically–up to a point where people can think about things other than basic survival–than those that do not.
Many people justified Soviet totalitarianism on the grounds that it would at least save people from the grinding povery in which so many of them lived during the era of the czars. Actually, it condemned many generations to unnecessary poverty–millions, in the case of the Ukranian famines, to actual starvation.
Many Germans supported the Nazi party because it promised, among other things, economic dynamism. After the economic pain of the 1920s and early 1930s, the sacrifice of their political rights appeared to these individuals as a small thing in comparison to the prosperity for which they longed. What they actually got, of course, was the destruction of their country.
When a government operates with no democratic process and with no guarantee of the rights of free speech and of the press, it operates with no feedback loop. Sooner or later…probably sooner…it will do things which are enormously destructive of economic productivity.
But there is more to life than economics. Many if not most people really do have a strong desire for reasonable autonomy in the way they run their lives and for the right to speak their minds. I don’t get the impression that these aspects of life–which have been absolutely essential to the common American belief system–are viewed by President Obama as being of very high priority.
We can debate, on a tactical level, how much direct support it would be wise for an American President to show for the Iranian dissidents. But I think the issue here goes far beyond tactics. I just don’t get the impression that Obama feels much visceral sympathy for those who are trying to free themselves from a repressive government. He does not appear to feel the same level of negative emotions toward the Iranian dictators that he does toward, say, American bankers and utility company executives.
Unbelievably, Iranian diplomats have been invited to 4th of July celebrations at U.S. embassies around the world. Here’s an interview with a State Department official:
QUESTION: Do you think it’s still appropriate to have Iranians come to these July 4th parties under the circumstances? I mean, is there any thought being given to like, rescinding invitations?
MR. KELLY: No, there’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats.
QUESTION: It’s appropriate to have a social dialogue with them if they come?
MR. KELLY: Well, we have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran, and we tried many years of isolation and we’re pursuing a different path now.
Seems to me that a President who truly valued democracy and human rights would have ordered this invitation withdrawn several days ago…indeed, such a President would probably not have allowed the invitation to be issued in the first place.
Bookworm quotes Max Boot:
It’s bad enough that the president is deliberately refraining from being too outspoken in favor of the freedom fighters who are being beaten, shot, and tear-gassed in the streets of Tehran. But that he’s still prepared to have America’s diplomats break bread with representatives of the very regime which is responsible for this terrible oppression, and to do it on the holiday that celebrates our own struggle for freedom–that’s too nauseating for words.
It essentially confirms the analysis of those who have suggested that Obama is not going to deviate one iota from his previous course of “engagement” with Iran, no matter how absurd and immoral that course now appears to be. For a candidate who mocked the previous president for his supposed adherence to ideology over reality, Obama is displaying that very tendency–only, of course, his ideology is not the advancement of freedom but the advancement of negotiations in the vain hope that somehow we can find common ground with the world’s vilest regimes.
…and she says:
This engagement is especially sickening when one considers July 4th’s meaning. It’s not just any old day with burgers and buns. This is is special, since it’s a celebration of the great victory of liberty over tyranny. Having the mullah’s blood-stained compadres be the ones celebrating this holiday with official US representatives is not just an ordinary political engagement. Symbolically, it’s like having the mullahs dance on their victims’ graves.
Also see Andy McCarthy on some of the factors motivating Obama’s thinking on Iran. It’s pretty harsh, and I hope it overstates the case…but I’m not sure it does.