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Balancing Human Rights and National Interests

Author: Michael Moran
February 25, 2009


Many chickens returned to roost over the past week at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, fowl born of promises and high-flown rhetoric during the campaign season that always looked unlikely to survive first contact with the enemy-- that is, reality.

The first of these problems surfaced during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to China last week. She insisted that Washington would continue to speak out about China's repression of free speech and religious groups and its harsh treatment of ethnic minorities in the Muslim Xinjiang region and Tibet. Indeed, the State Department on Wednesday released its annual human rights report, and the section on China is filled with chapter and verse on just such abuses.

The second problem, long-predicted, is a retreat on President Barack Obama's promise to be out of Iraq 16 months after taking office. This always looked hollow whether or not you think withdrawal is a good idea. The new number--19 months--is hardly a major retrenchment. But, along with the caveats reported in today's New York Times about troops who will remain in Iraq well after that 19-month period, it is yet another reminder that words and deeds are different things.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama promised not to let ideology prevent the United States from holding talks with its rivals and enemies abroad. But the move away from the Bush administration's embargo on such talks, while sensible, will run up against other promises, especially with regard to human rights.

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