America is in need of leadership. Between Congress’s abysmal approval ratings and the president’s ever-sliding popularity, America has no voice of strength and conviction. This is particularly dangerous to our standing in the world. At such a critical time in history when a strong American voice is needed to guide the world on democratic transition in the Arab world, on human rights in Asia and Africa, and religious freedom throughout the globe, it is disheartening that there is no leadership in the White House, Senate, or House to advance the values upon which our country was founded.
Freedom of speech is essentially nonexistent in Belarus; freedom of the press is curtailed so much in China that the country has been named a world leader in Internet oppression and this article is unlikely to be found there; and freedom of religion is under even greater threat following the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and Libya than it was before.
The bully pulpit of the American presidency offers our commander in chief a unique and invaluable platform from which to advocate forcefully for positive change among our friends, our strategic allies, and even our enemies. Unfortunately, American leadership of late has been leadership from behind.
When it is time to elect our next president, it is our obligation as Americans to support the candidate who is a true champion of American values and who will establish a clear and consistent foreign policy that upholds fundamental rights while advancing America’s vital interests. We need a president who understands that freedom of religion is more than just the First Amendment, but that it is also the foundation for security, stability, and democracy. We need a president who will not require the Dalai Lama to leave the White House through the back door for fear of angering the Chinese, who will not turn a blind eye to Sudan’s continuing egregious violations in South Kordofan, and who will stand as a voice for the voiceless and a figure of strength on human rights and religious freedom.
I believe that person is Governor Jon Huntsman.
In the large field of candidates running for president, Governor Jon Huntsman stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to the aggressive advocacy of basic human dignity, both at home and abroad. Where others have talking points, Jon Huntsman has a strong and unequivocal track record of promoting and protecting basic human rights and freedoms.
For too long, “official doctrine” has produced inconsistent policies and few results when it comes to the advancement of human rights internationally. Various administrations have given in to the whims of political reality rather than stand for the “ideal” of human rights. They have repeatedly bowed at the feet of some of the world’s most brutal autocrats when they could and should stand up to such abusers. On the rare occasion that this administration has paid lip service to the goals of religious and personal freedoms, it has used the threat of harsh words rather than the example of strong actions to increase engagement.
While president after president has spoken about the travesties committed every day by the Chinese in Tibet, the enslavement of an entire generation to rape and torture in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the ongoing persecution of religious minorities at the hands of Saudi authorities, none has attempted to make any serious progress to resolve these issues.
America has a president now who could communicate the universal values of fundamental rights to the rest of the world in clear, concise, and ardent terms, but instead he chooses to play it safe, lead from behind, and put strategic fundamental values behind tactical political interests.
Now more than ever, Americans need a president who commands the respect of his counterparts on global human rights issues — a president who will engage not through empty rhetoric, but through actions that will lead to tangible results.
As an American trade representative, Governor Huntsman built strong relationships with leaders in the Chinese government. With his hard work, not to mention fluency in their language, he has given them no choice but to respect him at the negotiating table.
Because of his expertise, Jon served as ambassador to China. But rather than quietly accepting the status quo — in which Christian churches in China are shuttered arbitrarily, dissidents are routinely sent to re-education camps for years of hard labor, and Falun Gong practitioners are extra-judiciously killed — Huntsman’s message of universal human rights was delivered across generational, income, and educational levels, from the president and premier to international business leaders, local merchants, and Chinese law students.
Huntsman became the first American ambassador to visit Tibet in nearly a decade. He tirelessly fought the central government to secure the release of wrongly imprisoned intellectuals and activists. He served as both of symbol of American commitment to human rights and conductor of those values.
If Americans truly care about putting an end to the crimes committed by illiberal regimes, it is our duty and responsibility to elect a president who we truly believe will give us more than fancy speeches filled with empty words. We need a president who has a proven track record of cultural and diplomatic outreach and alliances, relationships with key international players, and the backbone to stand up each and every time that universal standards are violated.
Americans who truly believe in the values upon which our great country was created will support Jon Huntsman for president.
Joseph K. Grieboski is the Chairman of the Board of the Institute for Religion and Public Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based inter-religious and non-profit organization dedicated to promoting freedom of religion. Under Joseph’s leadership, the Institute has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on three separate occasions. He has traveled to Kosovo, China, Southern Sudan, Darfur and countless other areas to investigate religious freedom and has testified as an expert many times to Congress and other legislative and international bodies.
More information on the Institute can be found at www.religionandpolicy.org.