Commentary Magazine


They Just Don’t Care

Five Cuban pro-democracy dissidents — winners of the National Endowment for Democracy’s annual Democracy Award — were snubbed by the White House: no meeting for their representatives (the five dissidents were not themselves allowed to travel here) and only a belated written statement was issued. The Washington Post editors are disgusted:

Mr. Obama’s hastily drafted statement — issued after The Post inquired about his silence — said he wished ‘to acknowledge and commend’ the five dissidents ‘and all the brave men and women who are standing up for the right of the Cuban people to freely determine their country’s future.’  . . .They, like the beleaguered pro-democracy movements of Venezuela and Nicaragua, are hoping that the American president will focus his policy on supporting them. Yet for now, Mr. Obama’s diplomacy is clearly centered on their oppressors.”

Obama, the editors explain, is perhaps too heavily invested in “heaping praise on visiting Chilean President Michele Bachelet, a socialist who has been promoting Cuba’s readmission into the Organization of American States and who has gone out of her way to avoid offending Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez.” Let’s be clear: this administration does not care about human rights or democracy; it cares about ingratiating itself with foes of both.

It is odd that when it comes to shutting Guantanamo or limiting interrogation tools to combat terrorism the president is brimming with rhetoric about “enlist[ing] the power of our fundamental values.” As he said in  May at the National Archives:

Fidelity to our values is the reason why the United States of America grew from a small string of colonies under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation in the world.

It is the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they’d receive better treatment from America’s armed forces than from their own government.

It is the reason why America has benefited from strong alliances that amplified our power, and drawn a sharp and moral contrast with our adversaries.

It is the reason why we’ve been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism, outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free people everywhere in common cause and common effort.

So how exactly does that mesh with excising human rights and support for democracies from his foreign policy agenda? It doesn’t. In Obama’s book, talk of “values” is reserved as a stick with which to beat America and George W. Bush, not a guide for how we interact on the world stage and what expectations we set for other nations.