February 06, 2014
Obama's manipulation of LGBT issue an opportunistic ploy to deflect from US Foreign Policy failures, Hot headlines, Mark Adomanis, 08/09/2013
struggle in the service of US foreign policy. The White House uses a selective morality toward the nations of the world vis-a-vis queer people and only assumes a mantle of political correctness when such ruses deflect shade from its foreign policy blunders such as the Snowden-NSA portfolio or the recent fiasco of Obama's abandoned plan to start a new US Middle-East War on Syria.]
Barack Obama made headlines the other day when he harshly criticized Russia’s laws against gay propaganda on the Jay Leno show [Bloggers note: This article refers to the week prior to its publication: 08/09/2013]. In a tone that, at least for him, amounted to righteous indignation Obama said the following:
“I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them…One of the things I think is very important for me to speak out on is making sure that people are treated fairly and justly because that’s what we stand for, and I believe that that’s a precept that’s not unique to America. That’s just something that should apply everywhere.”
His comments were immediately reproduced in a host of other media outlets and became part of the generalized (and justified!) push-back against Russia’s harsh new anti-gay laws. The whole episode even allowed Obama, who is often criticized by his conservative political adversaries and even liberal interventionists for the lack of “morality” in his foreign policy, to strike a pose as a crusading human rights activist. That’s certainly an unusual pose for someone like Obama whose entire political persona is built around his overwhelming steadiness and lack of emotion, but his takedown of Putin got rave reviews from across the political spectrum and it wouldn’t surprise me if we got a lot more of “no-patience’” Barack in the days and weeks to come.
Here’s the problem: Obama actions, and the actions of his government, conclusively show that he has virtually limitless patience for countries that mistreat gays. In case anyone forgot, we’re very close military and political allies with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, and numerous other countries in which homosexuality is not only illegal but it sometimes punished with the death penalty. Gays in Saudi Arabia are banned from schools, thrown in jail, and even whipped simply for the crime of being gay. Despite this, the United States sells the Saudis tens of billions of dollars worth of high-tech weapons and, among other things, is working with them to overthrow Bashar al-Asad. Much the same can be said about the other Gulf Monarchies, which have been close US allies for decades and which violently repress not only “gay propaganda” but any expressions of homosexuality whatsoever.
Maybe it’s impolite to note this, maybe I’m being a “whataboutist” by noting the far more violent and intractable homophobia of numerous close US allies. But here’s the thing: even if you think I’m being insufficiently supportive of Obama’s policy and even if you think I’m being unduly defensive of the Russians,* the Russians are still going to point out the US’ double standard because that’s what they always do. If you think that Sergei Lavrov and the rest of the Russian Foreign Ministry are going to just sit there and passively listen to lectures on gay rights from the US president, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The Russians positively hate this sort of “values-based” diplomacy and they absolutely revel in pointing out the US’ inevitable shortcomings in fulfilling it.
And so when the Russians, as they undoubtedly will, highlight the US’ extreme inconsistency in supporting gay rights…well what then? What do we say? When our official position is that we have “no patience” for countries that mistreat their LGBT citizens and the Russians say “but what about the Saudis?” how to we respond? I suppose we can say “the Saudis don’t count” but that’s not exactly a thrilling message of universal values, is it? I suppose we could simply ignore the Russian response, but that also doesn’t seem like the sharpest strategy since the Russians have some pretty loud megaphones of their own and could succeed in making us appear rather foolish. We could also say “well we’re friends with the Saudis and not with you, so tough luck,” but that, again, is sending a message that values aren’t universal but are contingent on a country’s political relationship with the US (exactly the opposite of the message Obama was attempting to send).
This is all a slightly roundabout way of highlighting the real problem with a “values-based” foreign policy: American economic and security interests demand close cooperation with a number of highly unsavory regimes, and, because of this cooperation, any appeal to universal values is necessarily going to fall very far short of the mark. I’m not particularly agitated by America’s alliance with the Gulf Monarchies or other less-than-democratic countries because, hey, it’s a rough world out there and you cooperate with whomever you need to. America wouldn’t have become nearly as powerful as it is today if it had only cooperated with countries that were purer than the driven snow, and virtually every other country in the world partners with at least a few decidedly unsavory characters. But closely cooperating with some of the most homophobic countries on earth while simultaneously claiming to support universal human rights for gays and lesbians? How can that possibly be an effective strategy?
Opposition to Russia’s “gay propaganda” ban is richly justified because its a stupid and indefensible law. But, for the sake of honesty if nothing else, we shouldn’t pretend that the United States has some sort of universal and non-negotiable stance in favor of gay rights because this simply isn’t the case.
*I’ve written about three dozen different columns on my opposition to the ban on “gay propaganda” but in case anyone is curious I’ve openly opposed the law from the beginning and think that, ultimately, the Russians have only themselves to blame for the PR disaster now on their hands
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