Friday, June 26, 2009

Devastating: Obama's Abandonment of Democracy and Human Rights

Joshua Muravchik's essay at Commentary, "The Abandonment of Democracy," is absolutely devastating:

The most surprising thing about the first half-year of Barack Obama’s presidency, at least in the realm of foreign policy, has been its indifference to the issues of human rights and democracy. No administration has ever made these its primary, much less its exclusive, goals overseas. But ever since Jimmy Carter spoke about human rights in his 1977 inaugural address and created a new infrastructure to give bureaucratic meaning to his words, the advancement of human rights has been one of the consistent objectives of America’s diplomats and an occasional one of its soldiers.

This tradition has been ruptured by the Obama administration. The new president signaled his intent on the eve of his inauguration, when he told editors of the Washington Post that democracy was less important than “freedom from want and freedom from fear. If people aren’t secure, if people are starving, then elections may or may not address those issues, but they are not a perfect overlay.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed suit, in opening testimony at her Senate confirmation hearings. As summed up by the Post’s Fred Hiatt, Clinton “invoked just about every conceivable goal but democracy promotion. Building alliances, fighting terror, stopping disease, promoting women’s rights, nurturing prosperity—but hardly a peep about elections, human rights, freedom, liberty or self-rule.”

A few days after being sworn in, President Obama pointedly gave his first foreign press interview to the Saudi-owned Arabic-language satellite network, Al-Arabiya. The interview was devoted entirely to U.S. relations with the Middle East and the broader Muslim world, and through it all Obama never mentioned democracy or human rights.

A month later, announcing his plan and timetable for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, the president said he sought the “achievable goal” of “an Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant,” and he spoke of “a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq.” On democracy, one of the prime goals of America’s invasion of Iraq, and one toward which impressive progress had been demonstrated, he was again silent.

While drawing down in Iraq, Obama ordered more troops sent to Afghanistan, where America was fighting a war he had long characterized as more necessary and justifiable than the one in Iraq. But at the same time, he spoke of the need to “refocus on Al Qaeda” in Afghanistan, at least implying that this meant washing our hands of the project of democratization there. The Washington Post reported that “suggestions by senior administration officials . . . that the United States should set aside the goal of democracy in Afghanistan” had prompted that country’s foreign minister to make “an impassioned appeal for continued U.S. support for an elected government.”
This is actually sad to read. One more passage, for example:

Obama seems to believe that democracy is overrated, or at least overvalued. When asked about the subject in his pre-inaugural interview with the Washington Post, Obama said that he is more concerned with “actually delivering a better life for people on the ground and less obsessed with form, more concerned with substance.” He elaborated on this thought during his April visit to Strasbourg, France:
We spend so much time talking about democracy—and obviously we should be promoting democracy everywhere we can. But democracy, a well-functioning society that promotes liberty and equality and fraternity, does not just depend on going to the ballot box. It also means that you’re not going to be shaken down by police because the police aren’t getting properly paid. It also means that if you want to start a business, you don’t have to pay a bribe. I mean, there are a whole host of other factors that people need . . . to recognize in building a civil society that allows a country to be successful.
Whether or not the President was aware of it, he was echoing a theme first propounded long ago by Soviet propagandists and later sung in many variations by all manner of Third World dictators, Left to Right. It has long since been discredited by a welter of research showing that democracies perform better in fostering economic and social well being, keeping the peace, and averting catastrophes. Never mind that it is untoward for a President of the United States to speak of democracy as a mere “form,” less important than substance.
The full essay is here.

Compare and contrast Muravchik with folks like Greg Scoblete, in "
The War on Obama's Realism."

Scoblete evinces an astonishing degree of Bush-hatred and Sullivan-esque neoconservative derangement. With Scoblete, it's clear that the abandonment of America's historic values is a virtue for the Democrats - a party that has spent the better part of six years denigrating GOP foreign policiy and stabbing the American military in the back. This is the unfortunate result of the full-on maturation, since the 1960s, of what Fred Baumann has called the "
moral condemnation of nearly any use of American military might." It didn't used to be this way. Republicans in earlier decades adopted a "realist" persuasion to put a hard gloss on events during the Cold War. Memories of World War II were still vivid for many statesmen. The idealism and pacifism of the interwar years is widely seen as contributing to the deaths of tens of millions of people worldwide. Sadly, the Western democracies stood up against tyranny much too late. When we commemorate historical anniversies like D-Day, June 6, 1944, the message of firm resolve in the furtherance and preservation of liberty is essential to the dignity of these solemn occasions.

Recalling these points makes it that much more stomach-churning to read the new "realists," who adopt the paradigm simply to provide academic cover to a postmodern epistemology of appeasement and weakness. It's evil, frankly, and fundamentally dishonest. Daniel Larison's writing comes to mind, in addition to the hack, Scoblete. A verbose essayist at the American Conservative, Larison's writings on foreign policy would be equally at home at extreme left-wing propaganda organs as the anti-American Counterpunch.

Larison's hobby is to pick on writers who he thinks are less capable, or those of enough prominence to throw him enough hits to match his buddy
RAWMUSLGLUTES. Larison's overriding obsession, it's clear, is to attack neoconservatives. What's especially interesting, though, is Larison's pathetic grasp of international history, which he combines with an aggressive use of half-truths and distortions (to essentially smear those who advocate a robust international policy). Contrary to Larison at the post cited above, in 2003, the Russians, French and Germans opposed the Iraq build-up for reasons of naked greed and political interest - oil - and not because they were unified in opposing some kind of neo-imperial project in the Middle East. Larison's just one of those hate-addled progenitors of the Big Lie when it comes to the previous administration. Funny how a putatively conservative journal like the American Conservative ends up in bed with the radical left; but for the left-libertarians, it's simply an alliance of convenience in opposition to a moral role for America and the world. Often influenced by nativist sentiments at home, paleo-isolationism would not only abandon America's commitment to democracy promotion and human rights, it would do so in those Third World countries that most need the moral clarity of U.S. power and leadership.


Benjamin Blattberg said...


Lesson 1) Bathos may be an unintended effect of moving from bigger, weightier issues to less important issues. For instance, Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock":

Not louder shrieks to pitying heav'n are cast,
When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last;
Or when rich China vessels fall'n from high,
In glitt'ring dust and painted fragments lie!

Notice how he moves from death of husband to death of dog to breaking of China cups. That's intentional comedy.

On the other hand, you write of the postmodern "realist" argument that "It's evil, frankly, and fundamentally dishonest." There you move from a big issue (evil) to a more specific issue (dishonest). Common-sense rhetoric would tell us that you need to move from smaller issues to larger ones; for instance, you might be able to prove dishonesty and then, from that, extrapolate out to the notion of evil. Or you could try to prove evil (really, Donald, you could try).

But whatever you do, don't move from the big issue (evil) to the more specific issue (dishonest)--that way lies Bathos and unintentional comedy.

Lesson 2) For God's sake, man, proofread. I assume that when you write "a moral role for America and the world" you actually mean "a moral role for America in the world."