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People Not Placards

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
November 30, 2009
Weekly Standard


The Obama approach to world politics-engage, apologize, avoid friction, be humble, reach out to previously scorned tyrannical regimes--s being criticized nowadays on pragmatic grounds. A record of 10 months shows this modest approach has brought modest if any returns. Low costs, the president's defenders argue, and low risks, so it has been worth trying, even if the gains have been small.

But the Obama approach has a moral cost that is usually overlooked and that is very high for our country and for embattled fighters for human rights everywhere. It is true that we live in a Westphalian state system, but time-decades of human rights activism-has undermined the view that what a state does inside its own borders, to its own citizens, is no one else's business. Yet this administration appears devoted to that older view, and its lack of enthusiasm for human rights policy is already quite clear. One could not escape the whiff of disappointment, even annoyance, emerging from administration ranks when Iranians took to the streets after the June election there was stolen. It seemed the administration was actually irritated that those shenanigans might interfere with starting a new diplomatic track.



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