Human Rights in the Age of Obama and Clinton

Human Rights in the Age of Obama and Clinton

One aspect of the Obama administration's foreign policy that has provoked condemnation across the political spectrum is its approach to human rights around the world. Critics have pointed to a visible tendency to relegate human rights to the background in dealing with offending nations, as Washington keeps its focus on what it deems more important objectives.

With the volume of criticism rising, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a detailed presentation of her -- and presumably the administration's -- approach to human rights. Her speech at Georgetown University last Sunday offered a fascinating view inside the administration's evolving philosophy. In a powerful echo of an argument made by President Barack Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Clinton outlined an approach that seeks to replace the old choice between realism and idealism with a policy that holds fast to progressive values, while keeping a close eye on the need to achieve results. She called the new approach "Principled Pragmatism."

Until now, the administration has disappointed just about everyone when it comes to human rights. The decision to cancel -- or, officially, "postpone" -- a meeting with the Dalai Lama during his October visit to Washington, only weeks before Obama's own trip to China, sent a clear message that Washington would tread lightly with Beijing. The presidential visit to China confirmed that impression, as Obama spoke in only the mildest of terms when referring to China's human rights abuses. His anemic and strikingly awkward effort at criticizing Internet censorship was dismaying, and his joint press conference in which no journalists were allowed to ask questions was little short of embarrassing.

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