Predictable people are saying predictable things about the Obama administration’s new global gay-rights push. “Historic, amazing, truly heartwarming stuff,” writes Wonkette blogger Matt Langer of Hillary Clinton’s speech on the new policy. Regarding President Obama’s memo on the initiative, “The White House is extending a helping hand to some of the world’s most vulnerable individuals,” says Victoria Neilson, legal director for Immigration Equality. “[Tuesday]’s actions by President Obama make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye when governments commit or allow abuses to the human rights of LGBT people,” according to Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Actually, Tuesday’s actions confirm the exact opposite. Because this historic, amazing, and truly heartwarming policy isn’t about human rights. It’s about the toxic but useful politics of identity. By redefining the universal struggle for liberty as separate fashionable identity crusades the administration trades unpopular and risky action for the cheap currency of hollow activism. Wars become memos and speeches and your thousand closest Facebook friends express their appreciation. Sure, without American action freedoms become crimes punishable by death, but you can’t have everything.
Think about it. At the end of this year, the United States will cease to be a military presence in Iraq. Here’s whose influence will grow in Iraq once the U.S. leaves: Al-Qaeda, whose new leader once shot a male teenage rape victim in the head for the “crime” of homosexuality. You read that right. The boy was first deemed gay for having been raped and then killed for being gay. Who else stays on in Iraq after the pro-LGBT president has pulled out American forces? Iran, world leader in the public hanging of gay teens.
And, in 2012, when Obama withdraws surge troops from Afghanistan against the advice of our military commanders, what exactly does he think Afghan homosexuals will face in the resurgent Taliban (the same Taliban Hillary Clinton is trying desperately to strike deals with)? The answer is known: they will face something called “death by falling walls.” It may sound like it was cooked up by Dr. Evil, but this Taliban prescription for homosexuality isn’t very funny if you think about it.
So don’t. Don’t think about it. And don’t think about this: Although George W. Bush is vilified by many in the gay community for talking about the sanctity of marriage, the freedom agenda he instituted did more for global human rights—gay or otherwise—than any speech or memo that might warm your heart. Sorry if it addressed freedom in the broad and embarrassing language that actually inspires action and not the chic shorthand of identity advocacy. Hillary Clinton declared gay rights to be a human right. But the point of designating something a human right is to establish its universality to the human condition and make geography and culture less relevant factors. If you think what happens in Afghanistan is none of our business, then it’s hard to buy your conviction that gay rights are human rights.
So, all the gay-rights talk rings a bit hollow, as the people talking are the very same ones who campaigned for an end to America’s post-9/11 freedom agenda. It’s a perfectly respectable position to maintain that securing human rights abroad should not be America’s primary concern at the moment. It is a nobler and wiser position to maintain that securing human rights abroad is a perpetual moral obligation and in the vital strategic interest of the United States. But there is only shame and hypocrisy in quitting winnable fights against the world’s worst human rights abusers while issuing impotent pro-human rights memos.
This is hardly the first time we’ve seen public relations supplant policy in this administration. Remember Obama’s videotaped Nowruz (Persian and Kurdish New Year) message to Iran in March 2009? People raved that that too was historic, amazing, and heartwarming. Three months later, when the Iranian people looked to the American president to back them against theocratic thugs, they found themselves thoroughly rebuffed. The new Obama policy is just more trendy dress for the administration’s pivot away from the defense of human freedom.