Advancing a Free Society

An Important Departure

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Speaking in Australia yesterday, Secretary Clinton made a forceful statement about the bedrock values that unite democratic people. “I think that the core values of the Australian people, the quality of life, the standard of living, the aspirations that Australians feel are very much in line with the way Americans think and act.” It isn’t great oratory, but it is one of the few times anyone in the Obama Administration asserted either the universality of American values or their relevance in determining relationships with other countries.

The statement is notable because it is a departure from the Obama Administration’s value neutral foreign policy. “Reset” policy with Russia writes off the predatory behavior of the Putin/Medvedev government, both internal to Russia and internationally. The Administration is complicit in electoral fraud in Afghanistan’s presidential and now parliamentary elections. When Iranians filled the streets protesting a stolen election, the Obama Administration hesitated to endorse them.

She also called out the Chinese government, saying “it has a long way to go in demonstrating its interest in being – and in its ability to become – a responsible stakeholder…unless that economic success is matched by growing political space and openness, there are going to be a lot of tensions within China that will have to be dealt with.” So democratic societies not only are more reliable as international partners, they are more robust because they manage societal tensions.

Secretary Clinton has essentially made the neoconservative argument. The nature of a government, its behavior toward its own people, is a crucial indicator of whether that state is a force for good in the world.

The values that animate American internationalism have been treated by the Obama Administration as something to shroud in order to make America popular abroad or get along with potentially powerful countries like Russia and China. Secretary Clinton’s affirmation of the difference between free people and authoritarian governments is a welcome change.