Since taking office, President Obama has shown little interest in supporting freedom around the world.
In difficult situations with complex U.S. strategic interests at stake – such as in China and Russia – you could at least make an argument about the prudence of putting the freedom agenda on the backburner – though I happen to think that even in those instances it is a mistake to completely neglect raising such concerns. But President Obama has shown a complete indifference to the cause of freedom and promoting liberal democratic values not only in difficult cases, but in the easiest ones as well.
Take Cuba as an example. Cuba is no longer a threat to the United States. Its economy is in shambles. There is no reason why the United States couldn’t robustly support dissidents pushing for freedom in the country.
But as The Daily Caller recently reported, under President Obama, the lack of support the United States Interests Section in Havana (USINTS) has provided to Cuban dissidents has reached new lows.
“It is really inconceivable the extents of disdain and humiliation and poor treatment on the part of the officials towards the Cuban dissidents,” Juan Carlos González Leiva, a prominent Cuban dissident, told TheDC.
A Cuba democracy advocate told TheDC that the USINTS has actually become downright “hostile” toward Cuban dissidents.
“The feedback that we continue getting from Cuban dissidents on the island is that essentially the United States Interests Section has become hostile,” Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, said.
While during President George W. Bush’s first term the USINTS was proactive in helping Cuban dissidents — providing them journalism classes, internet terminals, books and radios — these outreach efforts have reportedly ground to a halt during the age of hope and change.
Think about that for a moment: We can’t even provide books and radios to Cuban freedom seekers anymore? Because we are afraid of alienating Cuban officials? This is not becoming for the world’s only superpower.
The former head of the USINTS during most of Bush’s first term, James Cason, told TheDC that he sees the Obama administration’s shift in policy toward Cuban dissidents a result of an Obama administration strategy of “aggressive niceness,” which operates under the theory “if you’re just nice to them, then somehow things will work out, and they’ll come around to our point of view.”
All around the world, freedom is in retreat. And President Obama can barely spare a few words to champion its cause or a few moments to meet with dissidents asking for an audience. No one is asking the president to do anything so drastic. Simple gestures and actions would suffice. If he would just speak up, sincerely and regularly, on the importance of liberal values like free speech and religious liberty. If he would just trumpet the cause of political prisoners fighting for freedom in totalitarian countries, letting them know America hears their cries and stands with them in spirit. At least that would be something.
This is not to say that America can avoid dealing and sometimes allying with unsavory regimes. It is an unfortunate political necessity. But we don’t have to completely abandon our values in doing so. We can speak up for them, can’t we? And in the easiest cases, I think we should expect our president to order our diplomats to provide radios and internet terminals to dissidents pleading for some help in promoting freedom. We certainly don’t have to be “hostile” to their cause.
Maybe Obama thinks all political systems are equally valid. Maybe he doesn’t think it is America’s place to criticize others. Maybe he believes in a global strategy, as the writer Joshua Muravchik has suggested, of “peace through moral equivalence.”
It makes no difference. Whatever the reason, it is wrong and embarrassing – especially considering America is supposed to be the leader of the free world.
Let us, for a moment, remember what this country stands for to the beaten down and oppressed masses of the world. During his farewell address to the country, one of the greatest champions of freedom in human history, Ronald Reagan, explained it beautifully.
Staring out of the window in the Oval Office and thinking about what his presidency meant at the end of his second term, an image kept coming back Reagan. The image was “a nautical one,” he said, “a small story about a big ship, and a refugee and a sailor.”
“It was back in the early ’80s,” Reagan orated, “at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck and stood up and called out to him. He yelled, ‘Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.’”
America faces many challenges both domestically and internationally, and it is easy to say, “screw the world, America’s position is too much of a burden, freedom isn’t for everyone anyway.”
But our reputation as the world’s foremost supporter of freedom is not something we should so flippantly and capriciously toss in the trashcan. It is a reputation America – and especially our fighting men and women, our freedom men — have earned through much blood and sacrifice.
The current administration’s seeming inability to make even small efforts to stand for freedom in the easiest of circumstances, like in Cuba, demonstrates that their is something profoundly wrong with our foreign policy trajectory.
Why, Mr. President, do you and the people around you seem to care so little about the cause of liberty?