“In their rush to secure a diplomatic ‘solution’ to the Iranian regime’s long-running nuclear program,” Ilan Berman notes in his essay on cyber oppression, “Western nations did not mention the worrying decline of freedom of information within the Islamic Republic. Rather, the topic—along with the parallel issue of Iranian human rights abuses—was ignored.” And not only in Iran. The Obama administration’s foreign policy has routinely downgraded human rights. In his first inaugural address, the president made what seemed a sensible offer to human rights abusers: to “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” But in the transition from rhetoric to policy, the president has offered a handshake to leaders of countries, such as Iran and Cuba, whose fists remain clenched around the freedoms of their people. In the lifting of sanctions, the unfreezing of assets, and the rush to normalize, the president has likely increased the stature of those who cling to power through oppression, while betraying the cause of dissidents who have resisted them.
The administration seems to think that American tourism, investment, and diplomacy will undo the Khamenis and Castros of the world. But, in his essay for this issue, José Azel of the University of Miami says President Obama has misjudged the nature of Cuba’s dictatorial regime, arguing that investment will not diffuse power in a county known for corruption, one-party control, and the absence of civil society. As for tourism, expenditures by two million visitors a year for decades from Canada, Europe, and Latin America have actually helped the regime, “since the monies flow into enterprises controlled by the Cuban military.”
Time will tell about Cuba and Iran and all the other clenched-fist countries, and also about the consequences of shunting human rights into the basement of foreign policy.
— James S. Denton
Dissidents, Scholars, Human Rights Activists Call for Obama to Urge Rights Reform During Hanoi Visit