The one positive thing — pretty much the only positive thing — about having a leftist president is the assumption that he will champion human rights.
How, then, to explain President Obama’s nonexistent response to the massive pro-democracy demonstrations currently underway in Hong Kong? After all, more than 200,000 people are in the streets, refusing to accept the revocation of Chinese promises of greater freedom, and yet, not a word of moral support for them from the president of the United States? Chinese communism is facing a growing existential threat, and the supposed greatest representative of liberty — the American president — is silent.
Three things happened in Mr. Obama’s first year-and-a-half in office that signaled to the Chinese communist leadership that he would allow it a free hand in the way it treated its own people and the way it behaved in the Pacific Rim as well as globally.
Episode 1: In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turned her back on victims of Chinese oppression when she gave a speech that suggested we’d look the other way on human rights as long as we could deal productively on economic and strategic issues. The Chinese heard the message loud and clear, and subsequently ramped up their policy of jailing, torturing and killing democracy advocates, ethnic minorities and Catholics, among others. By early 2011, she had backed off from her “see no evil” position.
Mr. Obama, however, has utterly failed to take on the Chinese on the issue. In 1993, I was in the room in Beijing when former President Richard Nixon blasted the communist leadership on human rights. Their only counterargument was a lame point about the need to control more than 1 billion people. Nixon wasn’t having it, and neither should Mr. Obama. Human rights is the one area in which we actually do have some leverage with the Chinese, and yet Mr. Obama has been an AWOL moral warrior.
Episode 2: On a frigid day in mid-February 2010, a quiet, unassuming man slipped into the White House. Wearing simple robes and slippers, hands clasped before him, he humbly prepared to meet the leader of the Free World. He was supposed to have had this meeting months before, but was told at the time that Mr. Obama had a scheduling conflict. With that “diss,” Mr. Obama became the first president since 1991 to ice the Dalai Lama.
Mr. Obama sacrificed his holiness — a gentle, spiritual man who has done nothing but peacefully fight for the rights of the Tibetan people held under the jackboot of Chinese communism — because he wanted to schmooze the Chinese to keep buying our debt in order to float his record deficit spending and to persuade them to cooperate on tougher sanctions on Iran (they didn’t). Mr. Obama refused to share a cup of tea with the Dalai Lama, at least until he had the chance to meet with the Chinese first.
This was a major reversal for Mr. Obama, who, during the 2008 campaign, called on then-President George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics over the violent Chinese suppression of peaceful demonstrations in Tibet. Mr. Bush, by the way, gave the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. When Mr. Obama blew off the Dalai Lama, there wasn’t a peep of protest from human rights groups, leftists who say they fight for human rights, or Richard Gere.
After the Dalai Lama finally did get his meeting with Mr. Obama, he was escorted out a side door of the White House, past towering piles of smelly garbage.
Episode 3: When Mr. Obama attended the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in mid-April 2010, he approached Hu Jintao, then the Chinese president and the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He bowed to him, thinking he was signaling a new humility that would quickly translate into cooperation. The bow to Mr. Hu came after a string of previous Obama bows: to the Saudi king, the Japanese emperor, and (my favorite) the mayor of Tampa, Fla. Mr. Hu looked completely baffled and slightly amused at the sight of the president and supposed champion of freedom bowing before him. Of course, he read it as American impotence.
The Chinese knew that Mr. Obama would not raise any kind of serious protest if they moved against their own people, whether on the mainland or in Hong Kong. They saw Mr. Obama’s failure to offer even the slightest moral cheerleading for the brave Iranian people who were slaughtered in the streets in 2009. They saw Mr. Obama’s moral and political failure again when he took the side of the Muslim Brotherhood after tens of thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square to demand more freedom. And they saw it again when the violent proxies of Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened the free people of Ukraine, and Mr. Obama said and did nothing.
The message the world’s dictators and terrorists got was that this president could be rolled with his own naive leftism and that sometimes, he’ll even pre-emptively surrender.
Unfortunately for the courageous souls of Tehran, Cairo, Ukraine and now Hong Kong, Mr. Obama’s disgraceful moral lassitude on human rights has made their uphill battles for liberty more difficult — and the retention of power easier for those who oppress them.
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