Tuesday, June 23, 2009

# Posted 3:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OBAMA TAKES A PAGE FROM JIMMY CARTER'S PLAYBOOK: In today's news conference, President Obama came down hard on the Iranian regime for its failure to respect its citizens' universal rights. At the same time, the President insisted that he was absolutely, in no way, not at all meddling in Iran's internal affairs. In his words:

I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran's affairs...If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent and not coercion.
So the United States is not meddling, but it is threatening to make Iran's position abroad dependent on its actions at home.

Obama's paradoxical statement on this subject reflects a much deeper and enduring tension in the liberal approach to international politics. On the one hand, liberals cherish non-intervention. On the other hand, they cherish human rights. Is there any way to reconcile the two?

Jimmy Carter tried, but wound up offering nothing more coherent than Obama has today. At a news conference during his first year as president, Carter asserted:

Our statements concerning human rights, I think, have been well received around the world. We have not singled out the Soviet Union for criticism, and I have never tried to inject myself into the internal affairs of the Soviet Union...

If [the American approach] the Soviet Union and they interpret it as intrusion, so be it. But we have tried to make this a broad-based approach.
I'm guessing Brezhnev wasn't persuaded.

On a related note, Carter often tried to assert that focusing on human rights is not intervention, because international law recognizes human rights. Thus, in his first address to the UN General Assembly, Carter insisted:
All the signatories of the U.N. Charter have pledged themselves to observe and to respect basic human rights. Thus, no member of the United Nations can claim that mistreatment of its citizens is solely its own business.
Yet in another prominent address on human rights, Carter stated,
In the life of the human spirit, words are action, much more so than many of us may realize who live in countries where freedom of expression is taken for granted. The leaders of totalitarian nations understand this very well. The proof is that words are precisely the action for which dissidents in those countries are being persecuted.
So words represent a dangerous threat to totalitarian governments, but they are not a form of intervention. Got it?

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

I don't believe liberals care all that much for human rights (in the sense of negative rights--freedom from various government coercions). But I hope Obama's repeated public statements that he is not interfering with Iranian internal affairs are necessitated by the fact that he is covertly interfering like mad with Iranian internal affairs.

I have no strong faith that he is, but I hope that he is.
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