Those who suggest that Obama is simply engaging in a game of semantics—rhetorically opposing “imposing” American values while remaining just as committed to their advancement—ignore disturbing early signs from the Administration that the issue of human rights, and women’s rights, has been downgraded as an American priority.
During Obama’s much ballyhooed campaign trip to Europe, human rights were barely mentioned in his speeches. After the election, in his first interview as President (to the Dubai based Al-Arabiya network), Obama explained that his Administration would be doing things differently because “all too often the United States starts by dictating.” In February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited China and to the shock of many within the human rights world, failed to mention human rights to her hosts. Questioned afterwards about the omission, the Secretary explained that “our pressing on those issues can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.”
The United States has served as a beacon of hope for oppressed people everywhere. Indeed, dissidents during the Cold War described the importance of knowing that America existed and was giving voice to their cause. What message are we are sending today, to the prisoners in Fidel’s jails in Havana; the pro-democracy activists in Venezuela; the government reformers and journalists in Russia; and to the women living in subjugation in the Middle East?
The United States needs to be a strong and vocal advocate for freedom to all audience. To do that President Obama needs to recognize that some values are worth imposing.
Carrie Lukas is the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum and Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.