This year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner would not receive at the White House the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who was on a visit this week to Washington. President Obama apparently wanted to avoid upsetting Chinese communist leaders before his official trip to China.
Unwelcome at the White House at this time, (White House officials said that the Dalai Lama would meet with Obama after the presidential trip to China.) the Dalai Lama sent the US president a letter, congratulating him on being awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize and praising his work toward world peace.
In his letter, the Dalai Lama also urged the US president to be a champion of liberty. “I have maintained that the founding fathers of the United States have made this country the greatest democracy and a champion of freedom and liberty,” the Dalai Lama wrote.
“It is, therefore, important for today’s American leaders to adopt principled leadership based on these high ideals. Such an approach will not only enhance the reputation of the United States, but also contribute tremendously to reducing tension in the world.”
A letter with a similar message, signed by another Nobel Peace Prize winner, Poland’s former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, former Czech president Vaclav Havel and a number of other Central European leaders, had been delivered to the White House earlier and was promptly ignored.
In a statement released on October 5, human rights organization Freedom House warned that President Obama’s apparent decision to postpone a meeting with the Dalai Lama sends the wrong signal to the Chinese government at a time when the authorities in Beijing are intensifying efforts to silence peaceful critics at home and abroad.
The NGO noted that Obama reportedly delayed meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader this week to win favor from China’s leaders ahead of his first visit to Beijing as president next month. It will be the first time since 1991 that the Dalai Lama has not met with the U.S. president while visiting Washington.
“The doors of the White House should always be open to a globally-revered advocate for peaceful efforts to secure fundamental human rights,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. “It is hard to see how shunning the Dalai Lama will advance American interests. The Obama administration is presenting an unfortunate profile by putting human rights so conspicuously on the backburner in its relations with repressive regimes.”
Freedom House also pointed out that already this year, the administration has given only muted support to pro-democracy activists in Iran and has withdrawn funding from independent, pro-democracy activists in Egypt. On China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this year that human rights would not “interfere” with the U.S. dialogue with China on other global concerns. READ MORE
There is a danger that the decision of the Nobel Peace Prize committee will further convince President Obama that his approach to international politics is the correct one. The largely friendly, often admiring, and mostly uncritical media in the US – with the exception of the conservative TV and radio channels, which most of his supporters view with disdain – are not likely to examine his decisions to any great depth and offer constructive criticism.
This may further convince President Obama that he knows how to achieve world peace. He may, however, turn out to be more like President Roosevelt than President Kennedy. The former thought that he could win over Stalin by accepting his demands to change Poland’s borders and place Eastern Europe firmly within Russia’s sphere of influence. FDR once said “I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of a man. . . . I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world… of democracy and peace.”
Several American presidents who followed Roosevelt, including Kennedy – also a young and progressive Democrat like Obama – had to defend the United States at a great cost to the American people from the results of the decisions and the deals made by Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill at the Yalta conference.
If one compares the content and the tone of Roosevelt’s statements on world affairs with Obama’s, they are strikingly similar. If one compares Obama’s statements with Kennedy’s – starting with their inaugural speeches – they are strikingly different. There was no doubt whatsoever that President Kennedy was fully committed to the cause of defending human rights, and would not sacrifice the interests of America’s allies to win favors with the Kremlin, the Chinese communists, or Fidel Castro. If anything, he may have been initially too willing to use the CIA and military force in defense of freedom rather than rely on more indirect means like sending the right messages and backing them up with America’s strength as a nation willing to stand by its democratic ideals and its friends.
Kennedy would have never barred from visiting the White House an important religious leader representing an oppressed nation. Knowing that, Soviet leaders still thought – mistakenly, as it turns out – that Kennedy was naive and weak, because to them he appeared idealistic and inexperienced.
Even if today’s dictators and authoritarian rulers are not to be compared to Stalin, it is because they are far more sophisticated and can take better advantage of their opponents’ misconceptions and weaknesses. Sending the right moral message to them and to pro-democracy forces, which they try to suppress, can determine the course of history, as President Reagan aptly demonstrated with his right balance of principles, strength and flexibility in dealing with America’s enemies.
By unilaterally deciding to withdraw the US missile defense system from Poland and the Czech Republic, and announcing his decision on September 17, the day of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland at the beginning of WWII, President Obama left an impression in East Central Europe that his worldview is much more similar to that of President Roosevelt than to Kennedy’s, Reagan’s or most other US presidents after 1945.
Poland and the Dalai Lama have become a nuisance for President Obama, just as Poland had became a nuisance for President Roosevelt. It seems that from now on, Chinese communists will determine when President Obama can meet with the Dalai Lama. If President Obama chooses the same approach in dealing with Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev – and all indications are that he has already moved firmly in that direction – Lech Walesa may be sending more letters to the White House, which will have no effect whatsoever.
The uncritical media will cheer on, and President Obama may never learn an important history lesson. Shunning allies who share your values for a promise of a deal with those who don’t at the expense of the former may be very costly for the American people long after he leaves office.
Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy,
Polish-American Congress, Chicago, IL
October 1, 1960