Wednesday, August 04, 2010

During the 2008 presidential campaign, I scoffed at Obama supporters who claimed our supposed bad relations with other countries were due to Bush's 'attitude', and that Obama's new approach would make things all right...

To me, countries do what they think is in their best interests and if a country wasn't cooperating with us, it was because they simply didn't think it was in their interest to do so. If a country made that determination, no amount of sweet talking would make them change their minds... and if a country decided doing something was worthwhile, the way in which the United States talked to them was pretty close to irrelevant.

For example, the companies that decided to not support the Iraq invasion did so because they didn't want to, it isn't as if they would have but for Bush's cowboy attitude. Put another way, while other countries might prefer an American president who is properly deferential, that ranks pretty low on their list of concerns... a country such as China, who wants us to keep our markets open to their exports, isn't going to stop exporting consumer goods to America because of how our President talks to them.

But the lunacy is not just on the left, the right, at least the Wall Street Journal editorial page, suffers from the same affliction. To them, countries such as Russia and China have taken Obama's silence on human rights to clamp down on domestic dissension... and implying that if this wouldn't have happened if Obama had been more vocal in his support for democracy movements abroad.

The problem with this analysis is that the other countries know that while we might care somewhat about human rights in, for example, China, that we care about that a whole lot less than we care about other issues on which we want China's support. Push comes to shove, we're going to ignore what China is doing to its people if that's the price of getting China's support for sanctions against Iran... just as our desire to keep oil flowing has led us to overlook the Saudi regime's support for terrorism.

China and Russia all know that they are going to get American support for things we agree with. And they know they're not going to lose American support on an issue because of their clamping down on democracy activists.

So given this reality, why bother talking about our concern for human rights? We know we're not going to let that trump other, more important issues. They know we're not going to do so... so why bother talking about it at all?