In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly last September Barack Obama suggested that his administration's notoriously weak defense of human rights around the world would be invigorated. "We will call out those who suppress ideas and serve as a voice for those who are voiceless," he said. He went on to urge other democracies: "Don't stand idly by, don't be silent, when dissidents elsewhere are imprisoned and protestors are beaten."
Just over two months later, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Bahrain, an important Persian Gulf ally that hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet. The emirate was in the midst of a major crackdown on its opposition. Two dozen dissidents, including intellectuals, clerics and a prominent blogger, had been rounded up, charged under anti-terrorism laws and allegedly tortured. A human rights group that had received U.S. funding was taken over by the government. Human Rights Watch had concluded that "what we are seeing in Bahrain these days is a return to full-blown authoritarianism."
Clinton's response? Extravagant and virtually unqualified praise for Bahrain's ruling al-Khalifa family. "I am very impressed by the progress that Bahrain is making on all fronts - economically, politically, socially," she declared as she opened a town hall meeting. Finally, a member of parliament managed to gain access to the microphone and asked for a response to the fact that "many people are arrested, lawyers and human rights activists."
Clinton's condescending reply was a pure apology for the regime. "It's easy to be focused internally and see the glass as half empty. I see the glass as half full," she said. "Yes, I mean people are arrested and people should have due process . . . but on the other hand the election was widely validated. . . . So you have to look at the entire picture."