In next week’s issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Ellen Bork explains how the Nobel Peace Prize given to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo is a “huge problem for China’s leaders.” Alas, it’s also turning out to be something of an embarrassment for America’s leaders, too, especially last year’s laureate, President Barack Obama.
Clearly, the Nobel committee recognized Obama not for what he had already accomplished, which was virtually nothing, but for what he might do, the potential he might tap to use for good on the world stage – that is, in addition to his own personal charisma, the power and moral weight of the United States. Liu’s Nobel might be understood as Obama’s mid-term, a notice that, to date anyway, this American has squandered his promise.
In Bahrain this week, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Janet A. Sanderson, told
reporters during a visit to Bahrain that she discussed the country's human rights situation with Bahraini leaders. Among other issues, Bahrain is holding blogger
Ali Abdulemam in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer on charges of spreading false information. The Obama administration is unmoved.
"We are not here,” said Sanderson, “to impose our views on others, but to encourage the countries of the region to fulfill their priorities in this area," she said. "The dialogue that we had on human rights could be difficult, but it is open, ongoing and part of our relationship."
Of course this is nonsense. The administration has crossed swords with Israel for almost two years now, telling Jews where they can and cannot build in Jerusalem. And yet when it comes to detaining bloggers, Washington doesn’t dare criticize Bahrain, an American protectorate that might well have already been swallowed up by Iran were it not for the fact that the U.S. 5th fleet is docked in Manama.
“This is the age of Obama,” writes an Egyptian friend, noting the recent firing of the editor of the “independent” weekly magazine Al-Dustour. Ibrahim Iessa lost his job when he published an article by Mohamed al-Baradei; it seems the Mubarak regime was displeased that one of its most vocal critics had enjoyed such a platform. “In the end,” writes my Egyptian correspondent, “this is not the era of Bush.” The paradox, he explains, is that, “the president who has been labeled by millions of Muslims as the anti-Islam politician, is the only one who supported moderate Muslims.”
Actually, a lot of the people who implemented Bush’s policies are still around, like the diplomat who now heads Near Eastern Affairs at the State Dept, Jeffrey Feltman. If his colleague doesn’t want to stick her nose in the middle of Bahrain’s business, as US Ambassador to Lebanon, Feltman stuck his neck out for Lebanese democracy—and when the Syrians nearly killed him in Beirut it only cemented his legend: here was an American who could tell between right and wrong and made sure he was on the right side.
What’s most interesting about the exercise of moral authority is that it not only strengthens the oppressed, but it also terrifies the oppressor. Consider that Damascus and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah seem prepared to do almost anything to stop the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, investigating the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A state sponsor of terror and a terrorist organization, both operating extensively outside of the norms of the international community, are nonetheless scared that they will be identified by the rest of the world as scourges.
It’s time for President Obama to make good on the potential for good last year’s Nobel recognized; it’s time to call out the outlaws.