Gay Rights, not Snowden, the Reason for Obama's 'Anti-Reset' on Russia

The Wall Street Journal, among others, reports that President Barack Obama has decided to cancel a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Russia's grant of temporary asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Yet that cannot possibly be the case. A few weeks ago, when Snowden arrived in Russia, Obama brushed the issue aside: he was not "scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," he said.

Obama also downplayed the Snowden issue on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Tuesday, as the Daily Caller notes. But he played up the conflict over gay rights, citing Russia's insistence that it will enforce its anti-gay laws during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (and confusing them with the Summer Olympics in the process). He claimed that he had "been very clear" that gay rights "should transcend every country."

In fact, he has not been very clear about the issue. It was only in the last year or so that Obama began to embrace the agenda of the gay rights movement more forcefully, abandoning his former stance backing traditional marriage last May. Since then, he has advocated for same-sex marriage with converted zeal, even provoking the irritation of his hosts in Senegal in June when pressing African countries on the subject.

Setting aside debates over whether same-sex marriage is in fact a "right," strictly speaking, gay rights ought to be part of a human rights agenda, and human rights should be a core value of U.S. foreign policy. But they should not trump fundamental national security interests. There is no legitimate reason for Obama to be more exercised about Russia's stance on homosexuality than about its apparent embrace of Snowden.

That becomes especially clear given Obama's highly selective concern for gay rights. At the moment, he and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, are pressuring Israel to make deep concessions to the Palestinians as part of an attempt to revive peace talks. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that upholds gay rights. And Obama does not lecture countries like Saudi Arabia on gay issues; he bows (literally) to their prerogatives.

The only consistent theme in the Obama administration's foreign policy, in fact, is a fervent desire to be perceived as the opposite of George W. Bush. That was the purpose of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's absurd "reset" gaffe in 2009, in which she implied that Bush was solely to blame for the difficulty in U.S.-Russian relations, and signaled Obama's appeasement on missile defense and nuclear disarmament.

As recently as last year, Obama promised the Russian government more "flexibility" after the 2012 election on missile defense, and--together with the mainstream media--mocked Republican rival Mitt Romney's insistence that Russia was America's greatest geopolitical foe. Say what you will about the accuracy of Romney's claim: at least it put national security first on the list of American foreign policy priorities.

Not so with President Obama. On June 19, speaking in Berlin, Obama promised even more aggressive cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a unilateral concession to Russia. That came more than a week after Putin had already signaled his willingness to offer Snowden asylum. Gay rights, not security, are the cause for Obama's new "anti-reset"--but even they are not the fundamental principles for a foreign policy that lacks any.


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