Monday, May 3, 2010

Obama Failing to Promote Religious Freedom?

There's all sorts of legitimate areas for criticism when it comes to Obama, but then there is this one.
The U.S. government is not doing enough to protect religious freedoms abroad, the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said
Really? How is it somehow the mission of the U.S. government to protect religious freedom in other countries?
commissioners chided the Obama administration and U.S. diplomats for ignoring religion in foreign policy when so many conflicts find their roots -- or justification -- in religion.
Has Obama actually ignored religion in foreign policy? Many people think he's been too accommodating toward religion, by bending over backwards to pander to Muslims.
More than 10 years after the International Religious Freedom Act that created the bipartisan panel, the commission says the State Department has not implemented or underutilized key provisions of the law.
And that's a good thing. It's highly debatable whether U.S. promotion of freedom abroad, in general, is beneficial to U.S. interests, let alone a specific focus on just one type of freedom.
The State Department has declined to designate other countries suggested by the panel, and hasn't made any designations since 2006.
Also a good thing. That sort of designation would almost certainly do nothing to actually promote religious freedom, and would simply worsen relations between the U.S. and the designated country, for no purpose other than a feel-good gesture.
"It's befuddling how countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt who receive so much aid are so far behind in ensuring religious freedom,"
It's befuddling if you are fixated on religious issues and have no idea regarding wider policy concerns.
"In foreign policy, you're forced to balance out competing interests," said Leo. "It's easy to go into bilateral talks and ignore human rights and the issues that aren't fun for countries to talk about."
It has nothing to do with it being "easy." An excessive focus on human rights and religious freedom as a part of foreign policy is not in the U.S. interest. In many countries we can do little or nothing to improve conditions. If we alienate a country by harping on these issues, while ignoring areas of common ground, we not only damage our interests, but we might make the situation even worse in the country in question.
The panel also joined other critics who have chided the administration for not filling the State Department's ambassador-at-large position for international religious freedom.
Well, I have to side with Obama on this one for a change. It's ridiculous that we even have such a position in the State Department. I don't blame him for not filling it.

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