Did Barack Obama flaunt the famous presidential ego again? Some are criticizing the opening of his written statement congratulating jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama begins by saying, “One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice.”
Let’s be fair. Within the context of the Obama oeuvre, this line is generosity itself. He even went on to write, “Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.” Offense expunged.
However, his true misstep comes later in the statement. “We respect China’s extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty,” Obama writes, “and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want.” He did go on to suggest Liu Xiaobo be released from prison (as if it were a one-off case having nothing to do with the larger question of human rights in China), but the damage was already done. There was no more conclusive way to erase the significance of the Nobel committee’s choice than for the American president to contort himself into praising the human-rights accomplishments of the regime that imprisoned the absentee winner. It’s bad enough that Obama is scared to lead the world in the promotion of human rights and liberty. It’s worse that he won’t even capitalize on decisions like the one made in Norway and take an unapologetically pro–human rights stand alongside international bodies that are willing to lead.
If he thinks playing nice with autocrats will give the U.S. leverage, he’s wrong. Perhaps he hasn’t read the leaked diplomatic cable noting that Beijing was “scared to death” that Nancy Pelosi would raise the issue of human rights during a 2009 visit to China. Therein lies the power of American ideals. Now go back and look at the twisted, content-free gibberish Obama offered as flattery for China today. Who sounds scared to death to you?