Forget Ukraine: Gay rights are Obama’s foreign policy priority

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The Russian military takeover of the Crimea shows that national power doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun, but from the “capacity to inspire,” according to President Barack Obama’s national security advisor.

And that power of inspiration must be used by American diplomats “to decry laws that would lock people up because of who they love and to find new ways to protect vulnerable members of the [worldwide] LGBT community,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice told an assembly of U.S. diplomats on Tuesday.

“Events in Ukraine bear out a fundamental truth about U.S. leadership in the 21st century,” she announced. “Real power is not the ability to intimidate and coerce, but rather the capacity to inspire people through the example of our values and the ability to rally other nations to meet shared challenges,” she declared at the Department of State’s Global Chiefs of Mission Conference.

“Even as we speak,” she said, “many of our most talented diplomats are working around-the-clock to redress the situation in Ukraine and to de-escalate tensions with Russia.”

But the diplomacy is not going well.

Russian soldiers have pushed Ukrainian soldiers out of naval bases, captured ammunition depots and seized airfields in the Crimea. They have also arrested and intimidated peaceful protestors, inspired ethnic Russian protestors in the eastern parts of the Ukraine, and helped ethnic-Russian separatists schedule a secession vote in Crimea for March 16.

As the nation’s top diplomat, Obama has talked to more than 10 foreign leaders, but has won no significant international restrictions on Russians’ travel, cash transfers, or sales of natural gas to dependent European countries. His Monday talk with China’s president, for example, yielded nothing.

He’s slated to meet Wednesday with embattled Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of Ukraine.

The two “will discuss how to find a peaceful resolution to Russia’s ongoing military intervention in Crimea that would respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity… [and what] support the international community can provide to help Ukraine confront its economic challenges,” said the White House statement.

Despite Obama’s apparent focus on the Ukrainian crisis, Rice barely mentioned the subject in her talk to diplomatic officials.

She mentioned Ukraine twice and Russia once, for example.

But she devoted far more space and time to militant advocacy for gay liberation, while she painted diplomats as the heroic champions of gay rights.

“Finally, I want to touch on our bedrock commitment to advancing human rights and human dignity,” she said. “America stands proudly for the rights of all human beings – including women, the LGBT community, and religious and ethnic minorities,” she said.

“Even when it is politically difficult, we ask you to find new ways to empower those who are most marginalized in [foreign] societies,” she continued.

“In those almost eighty countries around the world where we find laws and policies that persecute or discriminate against members of the LGBT community, we need you to be a clarion voice,” she declared.

Since last year, U.S. officials, including Obama, have decried the low status of gays in Russia.

“Nobody’s more offended than me about some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia,” Obama said prior to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Obama’s statement came after the Russia parliament passed a law barring public advocacy of rights for gays.

However, Obama has not publicly criticized Russia on gay issues since the Kiev crisis began.

Last month, however, top administration officials targeted Uganda, after its elected government approved a popular law criminalizing public homosexuality.

Unlike Russia, Uganda is an economic and military weakling. Ugandans’ average income is only $1,400. Women work much longer hours than men. Life expectancy is roughly 54 years. The government is fighting a jihadi force in the north, close to war zones in Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Rice urged the diplomats to continue pressuring Uganda and other governments for failing to endorse Obama’s support of gay rights.

“We need you to combat restrictions… in countries transitioning to democracy, we must help them navigate the difficult choices they must make without dictating the outcomes,” she said.

Obama is planning to not dictate the outcomes in Uganda by threatening to cut off aid.

“The United States is deeply disappointed. … [The law] blatantly violates human rights obligations that Uganda’s Human Rights Commission itself has recognized are enshrined in Uganda’s Constitution,” said a February statement from Secretary of State John Kerry, who threatened to cut off $400 million in annual aid.

Rice ignored other problem areas where American diplomacy and outreach has been trumped by force.

She mentioned Syria once, even though the U.S. is supplying some weaponry to a less radical branch of rebels fighting against the Syrian dictator. She didn’t mention Egypt, where a military coup last summer toppled the Muslim Brother’s Islamist movement that was supported by the president.

Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have been fighting jihadis since 2001, was mentioned once by Rice, but only in a passive-voice description of Obama’s planned retreat. “By the end of this year, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over… and the United States will continue taking steps to move off a long-term war footing,” Rice said

Al Qaeda, whose jihadis killed 3,000 Americans on 9.11, got two sentences. “We are making our fight against al-Qai’da and its affiliates sustainable by developing a comprehensive counter-terrorism policy that is more agile and adapted to meet evolving threats,” she said.

She tried to downplay jihadi attacks that killed hundred of people, including four Americans in Benghazi, in September 2012, by describing them as “tragedies.”

“Sadly, I’ve also experienced directly some of this Department’s greatest tragedies,” she said, ” including the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanazania [sic.], and like all of you, continue to mourn the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other brave Americans in Benghazi just 18 months ago.”

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