The Cynical Idealism of Obama

According to a press account, Barack Obama says the United States cannot “impose” its values on other countries, but argued that principles such as democracy and the rule of law were universal. In an interview with the BBC ahead of his visit later in the week to the Middle East and then Europe, Obama emphasized that,

[T]he United States must lead by example — which firstly meant closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on Cuba. “The danger I think is when the United States or any country thinks that we can simply impose these values on another country with a different history and a different culture,” the president told the broadcaster. But he stressed: “Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries, but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity.” Obama said he would be “encouraging” countries on his trip to promote these values, but added: “I think the thing that we can do most importantly is serve as a good role model. “And that’s why closing Guantanamo, from my perspective, as difficult as it is, is important. “Because part of what we want to affirm to the world is that these are values that are important even when it’s hard, even especially when it’s hard, and not just when it’s easy.”

Here’s the deal, though. Because of recent court rulings, detainees at Guantanamo Bay will receive habeas corpus rights. So closing Guantanamo Bay is, at this point, essentially a symbolic issue – a matter of where to keep detainees, not how to treat them. Yet Obama still insists Guantanamo Bay must be shut down and he pretends that doing so is taking a stand for American principles and the Constitution. It is neither.

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The Cynical Idealism of Obama

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