For more than twenty years American foreign policy has been guided by a freedom agenda: the notion that our security interests are best protected by advancing the cause of freedom around the world. Ronald Reagan championed it when he won the cold war, George H.W. Bush when he fought the first gulf war, and Bill Clinton when he committed America to defending human rights in the Balkans. Now, here comes President Barack Obama. who has effectively turned America’s back on the cause of freedom around the globe.
Right now, freedom hangs in the balance in Honduras. President Manuel Zelaya has been sent packing because of his attempted power grab and efforts to subvert the constitution. The Honduran constitution limits him to just one 4-year term. (This restriction is seen as so important that in Honduras even the Honduran congress and the President acting together cannot discard it.) Nevertheless, this Hugo Chavez wannabe began an unconstitutional and illegal referendum that would allow him to rule indefinitely. The Honduran Supreme Court, Attorney General, and Congress, however, all proceeded to follow their constitution. Accordingly, he was expelled and replaced by the proper successor of his own political party. Evidence now reveals the extent that Zelaya has been supported in his power grab by Chavez of Venezuela and neighboring Nicaragua who are placing hundreds of supporters into Honduras to foment trouble.
What has been President Obama’s response? On which side does the United States now stand? Mr. Obama has sided with Zelaya, even echoing his words that the Honduran effort to faithfully follow their constitution amounts to “a coup.” The Obama Administration even co-sponsored a resolution in the United Nations condemning Honduras and calling for Zelaya's reinstatement. Little surprise that Hugo Chavez has gleefully declared that Obama’s move will “deliver a major blow” to the people and government of Honduras.
Alone, this might be seen as a poor decision. But it is part of a troubling pattern of behavior that speaks to something deeper at work.
When Iranians took the streets in recent weeks to declare their rejection of the unfair and rigged elections in their country, President Obama dithered and sat mute for days preferring to play the role of neutral observer rather than the advocate for freedom. Only after world public opinion soundly came out against the mullahs in Iran did Obama feel safe to condemn their brutal suppression of protestors.
In June, when the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) offered its annual Democracy Award to five leaders of Cuba’s pro-democracy movement, the White House was curiously silent. The NED asked the White House for a presidential meeting with dissident Bertha Atunez, who headed the Cuban Rosa Parks Women’s Movement for Civil Rights. Previous Presidents Bush and Clinton had met with NED award winners. But this time they were ignored by the White House. No doubt this was because the Obama Administration seeks to curry favor with Cuba’s dictators. The normally pro-Obama Washington Post editorial page was quick to conclude that the White House was saying, “Message to Mr. Chavez and the Castro brothers: We can work with you. Message to Cuba’s democratic opposition: We don’t have time for you.” Only after the Washington Post contacted the White House to explain their silence did they proceed to issue a bland statement.
Obama’s rhetoric in support of democracy is slippery and elusive. During his June speech in Cairo, Egypt Obama offered a relativistic definition of democracy, saying he was committed to governments that “reflect the will of the people.” Dictators everywhere recognize that as their phrase. Tyrants such as the Castro brothers in Cuba always claim this is exactly what they do. During an April meeting of the Organization of American States, Obama tried to warm relations with Chavez. He pushed us further down the road of abandoning a freedom agenda when he explained that he wanted to avoid discussions about democracy and “break free from some of the stale debates and old ideologies that have dominated and distorted the debate in this hemisphere for far too long.” His Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added, “Let’s put ideology aside. That is so yesterday.” The world must wonder, do Americans now believe that championing civil liberties are just stale debates?
President Obama apparently believes that by warming up to autocrats in Iran, Russia, and Venezuela he can change them and their regimes. No doubt he’s putting great faith in his ability to charm and communicate. But he is deluding himself if he believes that these tyrants are simply misguided democrats that will succumb to his persuasion. The cold war did not end because we magically conjoled communist elites to see things our way. The cold war ended because we enabled “people power” and then democratic values triumphed.
The President needs to worry less about getting along with tyrants and instead concern himself more with the security of the American people. He will do that best by standing up for democratic values.