Bailing out the autocrat industry

By James Morrow in Sydney

8 October 2009

It says a lot about a president's priorities when he approves sending $400,000 of taxpayers' hard-earned money to "foundations" run by Muammar Qaddafi's kids, but cuts off funding to an Iranian human rights group which had, to date, been diligently documenting the human rights abuses committed by the atomically aspirational Tehran regime.

Remember, this is the same Muammar Qaddafi who recently welcomed a convicted Lockerbie bomber home with open arms.

And this is the same Tehran regime which has, since stealing elections earlier this year, has committed murder, rape and mayhem against its opponents (not that it was a model of good governance beforehand) and which has made clear its intentions to obtain nuclear weapons while also threatening to wipe a UN member state off the map.

I have quizzed a number of my liberal friends and associates on this matter, asking them how this can be justified, but I still have not been able to get an answer more coherent then a spluttered, "Um, but, George W. Bush! Hey, look over there!".

Look, it is easy - and dangerous - to be naïve in the foreign policy arena. Nations, like individuals, who choose only saints as friends soon find themselves lonely indeed. But Barack Obama came to office on a promise of a more idealistic foreign policy, one that abandoned cynical Cold War calculations along the lines of, "they may be bastards, but at least they're our bastards".

And since that time, he has shown a remarkable degree of affinity with autocrats and hard men who don't let pesky things like the democratic will of the people get in their way (a view that is increasing in favour among certain segments of the coastal elites who supported Obama's candidacy). In recent weeks and months he has broken precedent and refused to meet with the Dalai Lama to avoid rubbing Beijing the wrong way.

He has stuck his nose in the affairs of a sovereign Latin American nation, Honduras, in support of Manuel Zelaya - a Hugo Chavez wannabe whose supporters are full of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

He has sold out the democracies of Eastern Europe to appease a resurgent Russia offended by America's missile defence plans. Yes, Democrats have claimed that the move was a strategic one, designed to get Moscow on-side in the quest to contain Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

But as TV's Dr Phil might say, "How's that working out for you?"

Dismiss it as feel-good pap or dangerous neoconservatism if you will. But there was a time when the United States stood for the spread of democracy and freedom. It may not have always lived up to this ideal, but as a governing principle, it was a good one, defeating the twin menaces of fascism and communism.

Today, as demonstrated by Barack Obama's recent speech to the UN General Assembly, his discomfort with the idea of American "victory" in Afghanistan, and his clear over-arching desire to consign notions of American exceptionalism to the dustbin of history, it is clear that the US under the current administration is more concerned about being one of the guys than standing up for principle.

This discarding of hard-earned moral capital, after a presidential campaign that aimed at the sweet spot of Americans' better natures, is one of the most disappointing aspects of Obama's presidency thus far.

And it is one of the many reasons why the Democrats are heading for a shellacking in 2010, and why the words "one" and "term" are increasingly being used in discussions about a presidency that is as simultaneously moralistic and disastrous as that of Jimmy Carter.

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