“I’m not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappacino (sic) ever at Kalamoun University north of Damascus.”
–Jared Cohen, State Department official, “tweeting” while on diplomatic travel to improve U.S. relations with Syria.
On August 20, 2010, the Obama administration submitted a 29-page Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to the United Nations that provides the administration’s interpretation of human rights issues in the United States. The UPR outlines U.S. efforts to curb violations domestically and abroad while reaffirming a commitment to human rights and individual liberties in the future. The UPR contains mostly liberal chest-thumping with reference to recent Democrat legislative initiatives such as ObamaCare and the financial regulatory reform law which, according to the report, addressed human rights concerns in the U.S.
In the context of the UPR, the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts trivialize legitimate human rights concerns abroad and demonstrate weakness to the international community.
“HUMAN RIGHTS” THROUGH THE LENS OF THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION—ISSUES IN THE UPR
“Right” to Health Care: On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare. At best, ObamaCare is an attempt to redistribute the nation’s wealth and affect a government takeover of the health care industry. In practice, the law will actually increase health care costs and distort the provision of medical care. Americans will certainly be worse off when the ultimate impacts of lower quality and rationed medical care are fully realized.
“Right” to Serve Openly in the Military: The report lists President Obama’s commitment to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a statute that seeks to separate a person’s sexual preference from qualifications for service in the Armed Forces. On February 1, 2010, the Pentagon announced it would begin an internal review on the effect repealing DADT would have on unit cohesion, recruitment, and retention. On May 28, 2010, Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to repeal DADT before the Pentagon was able to complete its review. Voting to repeal DADT before the review was complete demonstrated that Democrats cared more about ideological posturing than the morale of the nation’s troops. Congressman McKeon (R-CA), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, released a statement referencing the input of the Secretary of Defense and chiefs of the Armed Services: “The Secretary of Defense voiced concerns about Congress rushing to action. The Service Chiefs warned that premature action by this Congress would undermine their efforts to gather views from our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.” Determining who can serve in the military should be a decision made primarily by our military commanders in conjunction with Congress, based on readiness, retention, and recruitment.
“Right” to Protection from Predatory Lending: The UPR highlights predatory and discriminatory lending practices. As a remedy, the report notes that President Obama signed into law the most expansive financial reform legislation in 80 years. Unfortunately, rather than strengthening and streamlining regulation, the law expands government control of the financial sector, with increased regulation likely to stifle innovation and slow growth in an industry that is vital to the American economy. The Democrats’ financial reform law makes Wall Street bailouts permanent, vests expansive authority to government bureaucrats, and does nothing to stop the bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS ABROAD—THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION'S DISSONANCE
Engaging Activity in Syria: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime frequently persecute Kurds and other minorities often using torture as an interrogation method. For example, several young Kurds were arrested on January 22, 2009 after participating in a Democratic Youth Movement demonstration. Brutal Syrian security forces pulled out the toenails of at least one of the youths during a subsequent interrogation. In May 2010, the UN Committee against Torture said it was, “Deeply concerned about numerous, ongoing consistent allegations concerning the routine use of torture by law enforcement and investigative officials…” Yet, on June 2010, the Obama administration sent State Department officials to Damascus to improve U.S. relations with Syria. Jared Cohen, a member of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff, and Alec Ross, the Senior Advisor for Innovation, led the delegation. While Ross “tweeted” about Cohen challenging the Syrian Minister of Telecom to a cake-eating contest, calling it “Creative Diplomacy,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was at another venue referring to Israel as a state “based on crime and slaughter.” Human rights issues were obviously not a priority of the trip. On June 24, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton complimented Cohen and Ross by saying she was proud of their use of technology, calling it “21st Century Statecraft.”
The Limits of the Reset Button: The Obama administration prioritizes improved relations with Russia at all costs. On July 31, 2010, Boris Nemtsov and other leaders of the opposition movement in Russia were targeted and arrested at a peaceful demonstration. According to Article 20 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” The administration released a timid response to the Russian government’s disregard for a basic human right by saying it was, “disappointed that some Russian authorities continue to deny Russian citizens their constitutional rights.”
Little Promise in Burma: In September 2009, the Obama administration announced that it would reengage with Burma through a series of senior-level meetings between the two countries. One of the administration’s primary goals in renewing relations with Burma is to encourage democratic reform. To date, the Burmese government has taken no action to punish government officials responsible for the 2007 extrajudicial killings of at least 30 persons participating in peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrations.Deference to China: During Secretary Clinton’s first diplomatic trip in early 2009 she strongly downplayed human rights concerns in China. Secretary Clinton said, “[Human rights issues in China] can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis.” The State Department designates China’s record on human rights as “Poor.” For example, citizens still do not have the opportunity to change their government—a government that committed multiple extrajudicial killings. On July 5, 2009, riots broke out in Urumqi—197 persons died and approximately 1,700 were injured. On November 9, 2009, nine people connected with the riots were executed without due process.