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Obama re-engages on human rights

President Obama has taken plenty of criticism for downgrading U.S. support for human rights and its defenders. So he should get some credit for what he did yesterday: not just a meeting with Tibet’s Dalai Lama, despite furious rhetoric from China, but a second encounter with a group of two dozen human rights defenders from around the world.

The gathering in the White House’s Roosevelt room included activists from a host of countries where the defense of freedom is a dangerous enterprise: Iran, Belarus, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, among others. More significantly, some were from countries that are U.S. allies, such as Pakistan, Egypt and Indonesia. Obama’s State Department has been widely criticized -- and rightly so -- for downgrading support for human rights in those countries; for example, it has allowed Egypt to have a veto over which groups can receive funding under Agency for International Development democracy programs.

Though both meetings were closed, the statements issued afterward suggested that the activists pressed Obama on his record so far. According to a statement issued by Freedom House, one of the organizers of the gathering, they “described the increasing repression against them and encouraged the president to play a greater leadership role in defending fundamental freedoms of association, expression and assembly.”

The Dalai Lama told reporters he was “very happy” with his hour-long session, even though Obama did not publicly appear with him or allow photographs. That was mostly in keeping with the practice of past presidents, though George W. Bush presented the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal at the Capitol in 2007.

Bush used to meet with dissidents from around the world regularly during his presidency -- it was a small but enduring feature of his “freedom agenda.” Obama seemed to place a lower priority on such outreach during his first year -- he passed up a first chance to meet with the Dalai Lama last year, and he put off other visitors, such as the winners of the National Endowment for Democracy’s annual award, who last year happened to be Afro-Cubans.

It’s easy to dismiss these sessions as meaningless -- but they are not. A White House reception and presidential attention brings dissidents enormous attention, and a degree of protection, in their home countries. It also sends the message that the U.S. president knows and cares about the repression in their countries. So it’s good that Obama took time for yesterday’s meetings. Let’s hope he makes it a regular part of his foreign policy.

By Jackson Diehl  | February 19, 2010; 12:19 PM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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Comments

"It’s easy to dismiss these sessions as meaningless -- but they are not. A White House reception and presidential attention brings dissidents enormous attention, and a degree of protection, in their home countries. It also sends the message that the U.S. president knows and cares about the repression in their countries. So it’s good that Obama took time for yesterday’s meetings. Let’s hope he makes it a regular part of his foreign policy."


Spare me. This is Obama et al's political posturing. Just as with Bush, "human rights" are a pathetic leaf used to cover over our real agenda- war- hot against little countries and cold against the big boys. It's all about resources. Obama's slightly different approach is the Brezenski, just as sleazy as Cheney, just a little less obvious. BTW, I noticed Bush abandoned the Uyghurs back in the early years after 9/11. What gives? And for people who are against reactionary, religious states, why would you support the Lamaists? It's myopic in a typical Western way. Go to Nepal and you'll see people drive by appalling scenes of human degradation on their way to visit the professional victims- the Tibetans. Make no mistake, 200 years of Anglo-American dominance are drawing to a close, and people in DC are terrified. But, for the regular American, this actually isn't a bad thing.

Posted by: jesuscat | February 19, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

We can forget Belarus, Iran, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and other small players that are not expected to be a military or economic threat to the U.S. in the future.
Barack Obama's meeting with Dalai Lama, and the earlier U.S. announcement of weapon sales to Taiwan, are certainly two sharp poking strokes against Beijing. The U.S. hates China but it grudgingly deals with it because it is a rising power both economically and militarily. And China spreads its wealth, and invests heavily in projects in many countries around the world unconditionally. And that is in sharp contrast to the U.S. projects around the world which have always been pre-conditioned on control of the government that received any U.S. aid - like Pakistan now, Latin America before, and so on. And that cuts into the U.S. influence. Any nation that needs aid for development, but doesn't want to assign control of its military and its secrets services to commanders recommended by the U.S., or to allow the U.S. military bases on its soil and unconditional used of its airspace to get that aid, can just turn to China and get that aid without compromising its sovereignty.

And that means that the U.S. hates losing that monopoly upon which its global influence was based. And that is also why the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the financial control arm of the U.S., which was considered a curse in underdeveloped countries, has also lost is luster, and it is heading into oblivion. And with China, India and Brazil providing funding to many countries without suffocating terms - like the IMF's, the U.S. influence is slipping. The U.S. still excels in the war front, but the near collapse the U.S. economy has proved that the future belongs to economic development, because wars today do not bring home the riches of the colonial era.

The U.S., therefore, surely hates China for its global economic power, and also worry about China's modernized military, and for China's thwarting of its efforts to punish Iran and Sudan with U.N. Sanctions. And on this desperate inability of the U.S. to slow downs China's global influence, and on its fruitless efforts to force China to bow to its wishes and allows it to us the U.N. Security Council for its own concerns, Dalai Lama is used by the U.S. as a prong to give it some sweet revenge against the Chinese leadership! Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by: Nikos_Retsos | February 19, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Jackson,

Engaged? The president that marveled, out loud, how hard it was to get the israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate? The president that may not comprehend that the power of one side is in the hands of murderers and purveyors of terror? A President that expexted Israel to first give up land before even stting down to negotiate? I am amazed that you and the entire Washington Post (except for Mr. Krauthammer) expect our President to be able to accomplish miracles with a few speeches or by dictat. How your paper has sunk, to new depths.

Posted by: JackReacher | February 20, 2010 12:14 AM | Report abuse

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