Norwegians must not be reading the papers these days. Consider Obama’s recent record:
1) Sending Valerie Jarrett to Dharamshala to tell the fellow Nobel Prize winner Dalai Lama that he was not welcome in Washington D.C. until after the visit of Obama to Beijing later this month. To the Dalai Lama’s credit he came anyway. The Dalai Lama, together with Vietnamese buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hanh, is the symbolic representative of a massive Asian buddhist movement for peace and democracy particularly in countries like Tibet, Burma and Vietnam.
Thich Nhat Hanh was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Nobelist Martin Luther King. Thich Nhat Hanh remains at age 83 a leading figure in what is known as the “engaged” Buddhist movement and his followers continue their support for freedom and human rights inside Vietnam today despite the opposition of the “communist” regime.
2) The Iranian Human Rights Documentation Center, a widely respected human rights NGO based in New Haven, CT, has lost its multi million dollar grant from the US State Department, as Obama presses his case to talk to the Iranian mullahs. The Center is widely seen as one of the few independent western voices that keeps an eye on human rights violations in Iran, particularly important in the wake of the repression of the mass uprising there recently.
3) A decision to “engage” the Burmese generals while they continue to jail Burmese leader and fellow Nobelist Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since she won an election in Burma in the early 90s. Her detention was recently extended on trumped up charges in order to prevent her from participating in upcoming elections. According to Human Rights Watch, there has been a surge in political prisoners in Burma over the last two years – hardly a regime deserving of a reward it would seem.
4) Hilary Clinton told the world that the US would not allow human rights concerns to interfere with efforts to negotiate with China on other issues such as financial relationships and climate change. Even the Washington Post admitted the negative impact of her words: “Ms. Clinton’s statement will have an effect: It will demoralize thousands of democracy advocates in China, and it will cause many others around the world to wonder about the character of the new U.S. administration.”
The “theory” behind these moves appears to be something the Obama regime is calling “strategic reassurance” and liberal support for it is manifest. Yet, the democratic left should be concerned. This is a rehash of what we in the anti-apartheid movement of the 70s and 80s ridiculed as “constructive engagement.” Back then the argument was that American corporations should pull out of apartheid South Africa. The standard corporate response was “we do more good than harm.” It was likely true that inside a GM plant in South Africa conditions were slightly better for some black South Africans, but the legitimacy thereby gained by the racist government far outweighed that advantage and the movement based in South Africa itself supported our effort to force divestment.
Engagement, then, is a myth. The primary concern in places like central Asia and Asia proper for both the Chinese and the Americans is stability. Mass movements for democracy and human rights – like those underway in Iran, China, Burma, Tibet, Vietnam and elsewhere – threaten stability.
This suggests to me that the reason that the Obama regime has taken on board such prominent advocates of human rights as Samantha Power (at the NSC), Rosa Brooks (Defense) and Harold Koh, Sarah Cleveland and Michael Posner (at the State Department) is that their job, whether they realize it or not, is to help Obama pare back US support for human rights in order to support the new policy of “strategic reassurance” – and it is clear who they are reassuring, not the mass movement but the authoritarian regimes in power over so much of Asia and elsewhere today.
Fortunately, an alternative approach – the withdrawal of US military might in order to allow genuine democratic movements to flourish – is being articulated by some such as this statement from the New York Campaign for Peace and Democracy.
20 years after the Dalai Lama won the Nobel and of the Chinese suppression of the Tienanmen democracy movement, Oslo should have taken more seriously the (rumored) nomination of Chinese human rights activists.