Thursday, May 14, 2009

Change we can believe in?

Just as US President Barack Obama seeks to distance himself from his predecessor’s foreign policy, a remnant of the Bush administration rears its head again. President Obama has been widely applauded for the policy of ‘global re-engagement’ typified by the move to take the USA into the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the first time. Yet in the same day the United States were elected onto the UNHRC, President Obama has sought to block the publication of images of detainees abused in the custody of the US Military.

The editorial in “The Irish Times” supported Obama’s decision to take the US into the UNHRC; “This is a sensible course, in keeping with his more general foreign policy objective of reasserting multilateralism to improve the US’s international standing.” His predecessor sided with the Israelis in not participating in the UNHRC because of a perceived anti-Israeli bias. One has to think that the reason an anti-Israeli bias may have been perceived was because the UNHRC took heed of the appaling abuses of human rights in Gaza and the West Bank which continue to this day. The decision of the Bush administration to back Israel suited them as it delayed the backlash regarding American abuses of human rights (something which President Obama must now deal with).

I regard the American participation in the UNHRC as a positive move because perhaps it signals a new dawn of accountability in US foreign policy. However, once you juxtapose this with President Obama’s blocking of the release of the photographs of prisoner abuse, it becomes a false dawn. President Obama has said he blocked the release of the photographs because they “could endanger national security.” This marks a complete about-turn on his campaign promise for greater accountability, which has outraged civil liberties groups in the US and worldwide.

What change?

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