The Campaign Spot

Reading Dreams from My Father, Part Five

I’m up to Obama’s boyhood years in Indonesia now.

Obama describes his mother’s work at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, teaching English to Indonesian businessmen, and what she learned from her State Department co-workers:

These men knew the country, though, or parts of it anyway, the closets where the skeletons were buried. Over lunch or casual conversation they would share with her things she couldn’t learn in the published news reports. They explained how Sukarno had frayed badly the nerves of a U.S. government already obsessed with the march of communism through Indochina, what with his nationalist rhetoric and his politics of nonalignment – he was as bad as Lumumba or Nasser, only worse, given Indonesia’s strategic importance. Word was that the CIA had played a part in the coup, although nobody knew for sure. More certain was the fact that after the coup the military had swept the countryside for supposed Communist sympathizers. The death toll was anybody’s guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe; half a million. Even the smart guys at the Agency had lost count.

That withering sarcasm of the “smart guys” will go over wonderfully at President Obama’s daily morning briefing from the CIA.
Obama goes on to describe life in a country ruled by fear in pretty gripping terms: “the way the rich and loamy earth could soak up the rivers of blood that had once coursed through the streets, the way people could continue about their business beneath giant posters of the new president as if nothing had happened, a nation busy developing itself. As [his mother’s] circle of Indonesian friends widened, a few of them would be willing to tell her other stories — about the corruption that pervaded government agencies, the shakedowns by police and the military, entire industries carved out for the president’s family and entourage.”
But from that vivid experience with a brutal regime as a boy, one would think that Obama would be a relentless fighter on the issue of human rights. And it’s not like his record in this area isn’t without its highlights – work with Senator Sam Brownback to pass the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act here, a visit to refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border there, a resolution denouncing Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s government here, an amendment to bring former Liberian president Charles Taylor to justice there…
But does a visceral disdain for thugs in power flow through Obama’s bloodstream, the way it did through the late Tom Lantos, or Democratic Congressman Donald Payne, or Brownback or Republican Congressman Chris Smith? Do we detect the white-hot anger of President Reagan’s vigorous denunciations of human rights abuses by Cuba and the Soviet Empire? Would he be willing to do what Jimmy Carter did, and pull the U.S. out of the Olympics if they’re hosted by a brutal regime? (As we hear of new abuses in Tibet, is Beijing any more of an outrageous host than Moscow in 1980?)
Does a man who bristles with loathing for the cruel and inhumane rulers in this world tout face-to-face diplomacy with any and all dictators as his primary foreign policy change?
I wrote elsewhere yesterday about a similar pattern on other issues:

A man who claims to have dedicated his career to good, clean government chooses to buy his house with Tony Rezko, and a man who claims to have dedicated his life to racial reconciliation chooses to attend a church that teaches that the government created AIDS to commit genocide against minorities. Obama has this strange habit of choosing a path that takes him in the opposite direction of his stated goal.

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