Commentary Magazine


Topic: senior director

Obama’s Denigration Reflex

In his response to Jen and me, Max writes: “But in this particular instance, I would cut Obama some slack. It does sound as if the president raised human-rights issues with Nazarbayev, as he should have.”

The relevant question, of course, is not whether the issue of human rights was raised at all, but specifically what was said when the subject was broached. None of us were in the meeting between Obama and Nazarbayev, but here’s the report of what Michael McFaul, NSC senior director (who may well have been in the meeting), said:

In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.”

We also have this:

In an interview, Kazakh Ambassador Erlan Idrissov told [Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal], “There was no pressure at all in the meeting,” and that Obama quoted Winston Churchill as saying that democracy is “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, and you don’t need to have worked in the highest branches of the federal government, to understand what transpired in the Obama-Nazarbyev meeting. Rather than put any pressure on Nazarbyev, Obama decided to make the banal observation that none of us have reached perfection in our quest for the Ideal State, and to prove the point, America’s president highlighted America’s imperfections. And McFaul, when pressed on whether Obama was making a moral equivalence comparison, insists that wasn’t the case – and then proceeds to cite the presidency of Obama as evidence that we are in the process of perfecting American democracy.

These kind of exchanges are actually quite helpful in a certain way; they reveal a particular cast of mind. And Obama’s reflex often involves denigrating America in public and in private, to – well, to do what exactly?

I quite understand, as I’m sure Jen does, that, in Max’s words, “in this imperfect world some short-term compromises are necessary.” And neither of us is insisting that Obama should have cut off relations with Kazakhstan, which is playing an important role as it relates to Afghanistan. I just don’t think that Obama, who has a well-established habit of (a) downplaying human rights and (b) bashing our allies and showing remarkable deference to our enemies, is striking anything like the right balance here. Which is why I’m not inclined, in this particular case, to cut Mr. Obama any slack at all.

My former White House colleague Will Inboden, who worked in the NSC, weighs in with an intelligent post here [http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/].

In his response to Jen and me, Max writes: “But in this particular instance, I would cut Obama some slack. It does sound as if the president raised human-rights issues with Nazarbayev, as he should have.”

The relevant question, of course, is not whether the issue of human rights was raised at all, but specifically what was said when the subject was broached. None of us were in the meeting between Obama and Nazarbayev, but here’s the report of what Michael McFaul, NSC senior director (who may well have been in the meeting), said:

In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.”

We also have this:

In an interview, Kazakh Ambassador Erlan Idrissov told [Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal], “There was no pressure at all in the meeting,” and that Obama quoted Winston Churchill as saying that democracy is “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, and you don’t need to have worked in the highest branches of the federal government, to understand what transpired in the Obama-Nazarbyev meeting. Rather than put any pressure on Nazarbyev, Obama decided to make the banal observation that none of us have reached perfection in our quest for the Ideal State, and to prove the point, America’s president highlighted America’s imperfections. And McFaul, when pressed on whether Obama was making a moral equivalence comparison, insists that wasn’t the case – and then proceeds to cite the presidency of Obama as evidence that we are in the process of perfecting American democracy.

These kind of exchanges are actually quite helpful in a certain way; they reveal a particular cast of mind. And Obama’s reflex often involves denigrating America in public and in private, to – well, to do what exactly?

I quite understand, as I’m sure Jen does, that, in Max’s words, “in this imperfect world some short-term compromises are necessary.” And neither of us is insisting that Obama should have cut off relations with Kazakhstan, which is playing an important role as it relates to Afghanistan. I just don’t think that Obama, who has a well-established habit of (a) downplaying human rights and (b) bashing our allies and showing remarkable deference to our enemies, is striking anything like the right balance here. Which is why I’m not inclined, in this particular case, to cut Mr. Obama any slack at all.

My former White House colleague Will Inboden, who worked in the NSC, weighs in with an intelligent post here [http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/].

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What Did He Say?!

At times Obama seems to embody the worst characteristics of the Left — near comical moral equivalence, indifference to human rights, and a willingness to disregard America’s stature as the world’s leading democracy. Add in some jaw-dropping egotism and you have a scene like this:

President Obama said Sunday that the United States is still “working on” democracy and a top aide said he has taken “historic steps” to improve democracy in the United States during his time in office. The remarks came as Obama met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev — one of the U.S. president’s many meetings with world leaders ahead of this week’s nuclear summit.

Kazakhstan, which has been touting its record on combating nuclear proliferation, is a key player in the NATO supply network to Afghanistan and currently heads the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Some observers see a conflict between Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the 56-nation OSCE, which plays an important role in monitoring elections in emerging democracies, and its own widely criticized human rights record.

But if the Obama administration saw any disconnect, it kept its criticism to itself.

“In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.” …

“You seemed to be suggesting there was some equivalence between their issues of democracy and the United States’ issues, when you said that President Obama assured him that we, too, are working on our democracy,” [Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan]Weisman said. “Is there equivalence between the problems that President Nazarbayev is confronting and the state of democracy in the United States?”

“Absolutely not. … There was no equivalence meant whatsoever,” McFaul said. “[Obama's] taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States.”

This is astounding in several respects. First lumping the U.S. in with Kazakhstan has to be a new low (high) in moral obtuseness. As the report notes:

The State Department’s own 2009 human rights report on Kazakhstan reported widespread human rights violations, including severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; and pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system.

Freedom House’s 2010 world survey declared Kazakhstan “not free” and said, “Kazakhstan holds the chairmanship of the OSCE for the year 2010 despite a record of fraudulent elections and repression of independent critics in the media and civil society — behavior that only grew worse as 2010 approached.”

The latest Human Rights Watch report on Kazakhstan was entitled, “An atmosphere of quiet repression.”

Furthermore, what has Obama done that qualifies as historic steps to improve our own democracy? I’m stumped to think of a single thing. Great transparency? Hmm. Haven’t seen that in the health-care legislative process of elsewhere. Toleration and civility for the opposition? Puhleez. Does Obama regard his own presidency as some historic leap forward for American democracy? Apparently so, a troubling sign that his narcissism continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

At times Obama seems to embody the worst characteristics of the Left — near comical moral equivalence, indifference to human rights, and a willingness to disregard America’s stature as the world’s leading democracy. Add in some jaw-dropping egotism and you have a scene like this:

President Obama said Sunday that the United States is still “working on” democracy and a top aide said he has taken “historic steps” to improve democracy in the United States during his time in office. The remarks came as Obama met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev — one of the U.S. president’s many meetings with world leaders ahead of this week’s nuclear summit.

Kazakhstan, which has been touting its record on combating nuclear proliferation, is a key player in the NATO supply network to Afghanistan and currently heads the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Some observers see a conflict between Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the 56-nation OSCE, which plays an important role in monitoring elections in emerging democracies, and its own widely criticized human rights record.

But if the Obama administration saw any disconnect, it kept its criticism to itself.

“In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.” …

“You seemed to be suggesting there was some equivalence between their issues of democracy and the United States’ issues, when you said that President Obama assured him that we, too, are working on our democracy,” [Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan]Weisman said. “Is there equivalence between the problems that President Nazarbayev is confronting and the state of democracy in the United States?”

“Absolutely not. … There was no equivalence meant whatsoever,” McFaul said. “[Obama's] taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States.”

This is astounding in several respects. First lumping the U.S. in with Kazakhstan has to be a new low (high) in moral obtuseness. As the report notes:

The State Department’s own 2009 human rights report on Kazakhstan reported widespread human rights violations, including severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; and pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system.

Freedom House’s 2010 world survey declared Kazakhstan “not free” and said, “Kazakhstan holds the chairmanship of the OSCE for the year 2010 despite a record of fraudulent elections and repression of independent critics in the media and civil society — behavior that only grew worse as 2010 approached.”

The latest Human Rights Watch report on Kazakhstan was entitled, “An atmosphere of quiet repression.”

Furthermore, what has Obama done that qualifies as historic steps to improve our own democracy? I’m stumped to think of a single thing. Great transparency? Hmm. Haven’t seen that in the health-care legislative process of elsewhere. Toleration and civility for the opposition? Puhleez. Does Obama regard his own presidency as some historic leap forward for American democracy? Apparently so, a troubling sign that his narcissism continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

Read Less




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