Barack Obama

In the wake of recent violence, including the tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya, some have called for the United States to decrease its diplomatic engagement with the Middle East. With perceptions of America in the region already greatly damaged by a legacy of narrow relationships with autocratic governments, such a move would be a grave mistake with dire consequences for U.S. foreign policy and national security interests. Ambassador Stevens was among the strongest advocates of building relationships with the Arab public, and it would be tragically ironic to see his death lead to an abandonment of this critical task.

The spirited exchange at last Thursday's vice presidential debate elevated attention to foreign policy, which will be a dominant theme of the next two debates. President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney have begun to flesh out their views on the challenges America faces abroad, but they have said little about a range of pressing international issues and skirted critical aspects of stories that currently grab the news headlines. In an effort to stimulate deeper debate on U.S. foreign policy, particularly on the future of democracy and human rights around the world, Freedom House has submitted a series of questions to the presidential candidates.

Women and men in Tunisia and around the world were appalled earlier this month when it came to light that a woman who filed charges of rape against two police officers was herself charged with "public indecency." After a week of protests and embarrassing press, the Tunisian president issued a formal apology to the woman, though it remains to be seen what will become of the charges against her and the police officers. This is just one recent example of a much wider affliction that plagues countries around the world: sexual harassment, violence, and intimidation directed at women.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post's website. To read the original, click here.

The current strain in U.S. relations with Russia sums up the challenges of dealing with authoritarian rulers. They vigorously object to any criticism of their human rights record, yet even when such criticism is muted, they may still resist cooperation with the United States on major security issues. The Obama administration has resisted moves by Congress to sanction human rights abusers in Russia, but President Vladimir Putin continues to intensify his crackdown on civil society and block international efforts to stop mass atrocities in Syria. The time has come for the United States to take a fresh look at its relations with Russia and with other dictatorships around the world.

It may be largely absent from the presidential campaign, but the promotion of human rights is central to American foreign policy -- and has been for decades in both Democratic and Republican administrations. The next president, whether a second-term Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, will face critical human rights challenges and must be ready to address them from day one.

During Wednesday night's presidential debate in Denver, candidates will undoubtedly face a number of questions about immigration. It will be no surprise if these questions concern comprehensive immigration reform, local law enforcement of federal immigration laws or the Obama Administration's decision to defer the deportation of some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. But the candidates should face questioning about detention practices nearby at the Denver Contract Detention Facility and at other jails and jail-like facilities across the nation that are used for immigration detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

China is a nuclear power with the world’s largest army and a population of over 1.3 billion. It boasts the world’s second-largest economy, and is the largest single foreign owner of U.S. public debt. Its Communist Party regime, in place since 1949, now serves as a model for authoritarian states around the globe. And it may well be heading toward a major economic and political crisis. Yet for some reason, the U.S. presidential candidates have barely mentioned China in nearly a year of campaigning. When they do, the discussion tends to focus on pressing matters such as the price of imported tires.

This week, U.S. officials will once again welcome one of the world’s most kleptocratic living autocrats: president of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. What possible reason, you might ask, does the administration have for meeting with a man who has amassed an enormous personal fortune by siphoning the lion’s share of his country’s wealth for himself and his cronies while his citizens are literally starving? We are wondering the same thing.

In a speech to America’s diplomats at the State Department on May 19, 2011, President Obama declared the United States’ commitment to pursue policies that promote and protect human rights around the world. These rights, he argued, include “free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders—whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.”

A year has passed since that much-lauded speech gave voice to a commitment that human rights advocates had long been pushing for. In that time, the president and his foreign affairs team have struggled with the difficult task of channeling the rhetoric, which rightfully places human rights and democratic governance at the top of America’s priority list, into meaningful policies.

The pivotal foreign policy event so far in the Obama presidency was not this week's summit with Russia. It was instead that rarest of all events: Barack Obama's silence.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Barack Obama