No Holds Barred: Waiting for Obama

The president’s failure to champion human rights in Libya defies all comprehension

Obama 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Obama 311 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
If Toni Morrison, the Nobel-prize winning African-American novelist, can refer to Bill Clinton as America’s first black president, then surely the process can happen in reverse. Is it possible that Barack Obama is not the first black president, but just another white guy?
It’s a contentious statement, so let me explain.
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Whiteness and blackness are ultimately immaterial concepts that were elevated to earth-shattering proportions by racists and those who wished to suppress blacks for their own profit.
But the principal, positive consequence of this barbaric oppression of blacks is that in modern America, “blackness” has come to represent, more than anything else, a people’s capacity to endure suffering and humiliation yet agitate for freedom and human rights.
That agitation reached its apogee in the person of Martin Luther King, Jr., who deserves to be called the greatest American of the 20th century because he restored America to its founding principles. Prior to King, America was a great, but deeply contradictory nation whose brave soldiers liberated Jews from Hitler while back home cowardly lynchings continued, and whose troops bravely fought the communist menace in Vietnam while denying a black child the right to drink water from a fountain in Selma.
King ended all that. His reward was a bullet. But ever since then, his memory has become synonymous with the willingness of a people to bear immense burdens to promote justice.
It was because of that extraordinary legacy that many of us looked forward to the elevation of the first black man, or woman, as president. Surely that person would usher in a new era, utilizing American influence to promote freedom and the rights of man worldwide. And whoever it would be would have a tough act follow after the actions taken by president George W. Bush to promote democracy and human rights in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.
Indeed, America has an almost shameful record when it comes to stopping genocide, as Samantha Power chronicled so adeptly in her 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem from Hell. The US responded very inadequately to the genocide of the Armenians in World War 1 and the Cambodians in 1975- 1978. President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused repeated entreaties to bomb the railroad tracks to Auschwitz.
Morrison may call Clinton the first black president. But he didn’t even meet with his senior advisers to discuss Rwanda during the three months in 1994 when 800,000 died by machete. Clinton likewise did little to stop the slaughters in Bosnia, waking up only, and finally, to intervene in Kosovo.
FAST FORWARD to Obama, whose actions with regards to dictators and wholesale human slaughter taking place on his watch, the Libyan massacres in particular, have been utterly baffling. I have already written of my grave disappointment in Obama warmly greeting dictators like Hugo Chavez or rolling out the red carpet for President Hu Jintao of China while his fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Lu Xiaobo, rots in jail.
There is also Obama’s gross disrespect of the Dalai Lama – sending him out the back entrance of the White House, past huge piles of garbage in February 2010, in order not to offend the bullies in China.
But Obama’s failure to champion human rights in Libya defies all comprehension. First there was his utter silence for days as Muammar Gaddafi opened fire on his own people with jets, helicopter gunships, large-caliber weapons and RPGs.
Then, almost a week into the killing, Obama issued his famous denunciation of Gaddafi’s mass murder as “outrageous and unacceptable” – words perhaps more relevant to the threat of a baseball strike.
He further threatened Gaddafi with the possibility of economic sanctions – a subject which is not exactly on the mind of a brutal dictator fighting for his life. Finally, on February 26, the press reported that Obama, in a phone call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Gaddafi had “lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.”
Come again? Was our president suggesting that a dictator who had slaughtered and tortured political opponents for four decades, funding international terrorism and blowing up discotheques and airliners somehow had had legitimacy in the first place?! And what is the meaning of saying this in private to the German chancellor? Is Obama too timid to call a press conference and announce in unequivocal terms that Gaddafi is a tyrant who, if he survives, will be tried for crimes against humanity? Obama’s inexplicable silence in the face of the murder of peaceful political protesters – recall that his voice was absent for days even as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mowed down his own people after stealing the election in June 2009 – is in sharp contrast to the fearless oratory of Martin Luther King when he spoke of Bull Connor’s dogs and hoses on the last night of his life, April 3, 1968.
“I remember in Birmingham, Alabama... and Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth... but we just went before the dogs singing, ‘Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.’ Bull Connor next would say, ‘Turn the fire hoses on.’... And we went before the fire hoses... That couldn’t stop us... We would just go in the paddy wagon singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’” Just imagine what it would be like if we had a president who rose to such oratorical heights when he witnessed innocent citizens being picked off by snipers in Tripoli.
Equally puzzling is the neutralization of Samantha Power, now serving as a special assistant to Obama at the National Security Council and participating in the kind of do-nothing-on- human-slaughter administration that she decries in her book.
And so, we continue to wait for America’s first black president, someone who will step into King’s shoes and use the most powerful office on earth to make freedom ring, not just from Stone Mountain, Georgia and Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, but from Tripoli to Riyadh and Damascus to Beirut. Let us hope we won’t have to wait too long. As King himself said, justice too long delayed is justice denied.
The writer, founder of This World: The Values Network, is the international best-selling author of 25 books and has recently published Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.