Administration Defends Obama Trips to Tyrannical Regimes

Barack Obama’s peaceful overtures to the repressive Islamist world have proved so successful in breeding a kinder, gentler world that he’s taking that same act on the road – to Asia.

Obama is scheduled to visit the countries of Burma and Cambodia next week, two countries where human rights are routinely violated. Both countries are known for corruption and sex trafficking. In a letter to the White House, Obama was criticized by those who usually side with him, notably Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and seven House Democrats, as well as Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.):

By taking a strong and public stand in support of human rights and democracy during this first-time visit by a U.S. President to Cambodia, your words would encourage and embolden the Cambodian people and send a clear message to the entire region about American values and expectations, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring. However, failure to speak out will serve to undermine America's narrative of support for Asian democrats.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who is running for the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs committee said:

Sadly, the Obama Administration in his first term reduced human rights to a low priority. The Administration has essentially been AWOL where basic human rights have been concerned. Let’s hope in its second term the Administration will finally begin to advocate assertively for human rights around the world, and start with this visit to Burma and Cambodia.

Ben Rhodes, the president's deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, said that Obama “of course will raise our concerns about the need to respect human rights in Cambodia” in meetings with the country's authoritarian prime minister, Hun Sen. There’s a problem with that: Hun Sen is a former commander with the murderous Khmer Rouge.

Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, vehemently disagreed with Rhodes:

That's not good enough. They can all do their business — but they can also take 10 minutes to make a statement that (would show Cambodians) that the world cares and that it's possible to confront a very unpopular government. You'd think after the Arab Spring they'd want to be on the right side of history here.


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