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Encouraging/Discouraging: Polish Reassurance, and Gozaar?

   Posted by: Pat    in China   Print Print

Settle down Poland.

Though I have already voiced my concerns, and for the most part, disapproval, of the Obama administration’s decision to scrap the major missile shield in Poland and Czech Republic, I was pleased to see the rather quick move to sure up these Eastern European allies with Vice President Joseph Biden’s visits over the last week.  Biden made stops in Poland, Czech Republic, and Romania with reassurance high on the agenda.  These states were shaken by Obama’s decision and several key leaders from the region (including Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa)  wrote an open letter to the administration calling for the US president not to forget about them as they try to improve relations with Moscow.  While in Poland, Biden discussed a new plan which would place SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles at a former air base in the town of Redzikowo in northern Poland.  It was reported early that the US would also station numerous Patriot missiles in the country.  Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine, and the other Eastern European don’t really fear a missile attack from Iran, but what they do fear are Russian boots on the ground.  Being close to the world’s superpower, better yet having its military personnel on your territory, is helpful in keeping the wolves at bay.  Hopefully, this Biden visit is followed by concrete measures that continue to tie these still nascent democracies towards the West and keep Moscow from fomenting any serious expansionist plans.  

While the relatively fast response to get back in line with our Eastern European allies was encouraging, a couple other recent developments by the Obama administration were a little, yes you got it, discouraging.  

With almost the first year of Obama’s presidency in the books it’s starting to become pretty clear that his administration is, in IR speak, part internationalist liberal, in the sense that they have strongly supported international law, the United Nations, multilateral rhetoric (if not action), and on the other hand, realist, as in stressing pragmatism, containment, and in de-emphasizing human rights and democracy in relations with other nations.  Kind of a Jeffersonian view of the world if you follow WR Mead’s view of American society.  Now this is a wide brush and I look forward to explaining it in more depth in later posts, but for right now I want to focus on the human rights aspect.  

The Obama administration is obviously in favor of human rights, but it has shown that it for the most part is taking a hands off approach.  In dealing with states such as Iran, Russia, Sudan, Egypt, China, etc., the issue of their internal human rights violations is a tricky subject to say the least, but so far the trend for the administration has been to put human rights and democracy issues second to more concrete, pressing problems such as nukes, security, economics, etc.  Obama’s decision to not see the Dalai Lama before visiting Beijing is a prime example of this policy.  Now, I disagree with this specific move and in terms of Iran, I think the administration may be blowing a major chance by legitimizing a nefarious government that could possibly collapse with more pressure, but I cannot reflexively denounce these moves out of hand.  I sympathize with the challenge of working in partnership with a leader and government that is authoritarian and violates human rights as at times it must be done. There are too many important security issues at stake and at times human rights and the spread of democracy must take a back seat.  

Where was I getting with this?  Oh yeah.  But I also found out about this and it did make me upset.  The Obama administration has decided to save 2-3 million dollars by stopping the funding for New Haven, Conn.-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, which does what its name implies, and Freedom House’s Gozaar project, an online Farsi- and English-language forum for discussing political issues.  These small projects and organizations work diligently to highlight the democratic/human rights problems in the Islamic Republic of Iran and, specifically in the case of Gozaar, provide a place where Iranian citizens can communicate with other people living in free societies.  I interviewed to work for Gozaar at one time and found their operation and staff inspirational.  At a time when the US government is spending like a teenager with a credit card, it was surprised me to hear that these programs where on the chopping block.  I don’t get it and I don’t like it.  

I was going to talk about Afghanistan too, but I think we all need a break.  Ok, Ok, I need a break.

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