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Mixed Reviews as Obama Prepares to Accept Nobel Peace Prize

By December 9, 2009

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First from two leading human-rights organizations:

"Amnesty and Human Rights Watch said this pragmatism had sometimes come at the expense of speaking out about human rights in countries like China, Washington's biggest creditor and a major player in efforts to tackle the financial crisis.

'He has created a false choice between having to speak out forcefully on human rights or being pragmatic and getting results on other issues,' Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox told Reuters in an interview.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch give Obama high marks for acting swiftly to announce the closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, an end to the CIA's secret detention program, adopting a multilateral approach to diplomacy, and reaching out to the Muslim world.

But they fault him for failing to do enough to address specific human rights cases.

'He has spoken out on some cases, like (Nobel peace laureate) Aung San Suu Kyi, but he has not raised forcefully enough issues of human rights in China, for example, where it would have demonstrated real commitment on our part not to let other needs prevent us from speaking out very forcefully,' Cox said.

Human Rights Watch Associate Director Carroll Bogert said the administration appeared to have made the calculation that the United States would be a stronger player in the international arena if it downplayed human rights.

'I think the calculation is there that raising human rights will weaken the U.S. position. That's a miscalculation. The quiet approach makes him (Obama) look weak,' Bogert said."

Now, Obama's predecessor was not perfect when it came to chiding China for its abysmal record on human rights. President Bush wouldn't, for example, even consider a boycott of the 2008 Summer Olympics, though he did slap the communist regime on the eve before the Games. Obama's approach toward the People's Republic has been, as the L.A. Times appropriately coined it, a "gentle critique."

But in his eagerness for U.S. acceptance in the Muslim world has also reflected a weak stance on human rights, Obama has kept disturbingly mum on issues on which the U.S. should be taking a leadership role. Like the reluctance to support the opposition protests in Iran after the non-reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and keeping the Dalai Lama at bay to curry favor with China. Ironically, Obama the candidate slammed Bush for not boycotting the Olympics opening ceremony, saying with fellow Democratic presidential hopeful: "If the Chinese do not take steps to help stop the genocide in Darfur and to respect the dignity, security, and human rights of the Tibetan people, then the President should boycott the opening ceremonies," they said.

And the other group unhappy with Obama on the eve of his Nobel prize? Norwegians. From AFP:

"A majority of Norwegians consider 'impolite' US President Barack Obama's decision to snub parts of the official Nobel Peace Prize programme in Oslo this week, a poll showed on Wednesday.

Obama, who will formally receive the award at a ceremony at Oslo's City Hall on Thursday, will limit his attendance at the normally-scheduled events to a strict minimum.

Faced with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the fallout of the economic crisis, the US leader has declined the traditional lunch with the king of Norway, and, unlike previous laureates, will not hold a press conference nor attend the Nobel concert held in his honour the day after the prize ceremony.

According to a poll conducted by the InFact institute and published in daily Verdens Gang (VG), 44 percent of 1,000 people surveyed said it was 'impolite' of Obama to not lunch with the king, while 34 percent said it was okay.

More than half, 53 percent, said it was 'impolite' not to attend the Nobel concert, while 27 percent disagreed."

MORE: Which U.S. presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize?

(Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

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