When Secretary of State John Kerry went to Saudi Arabia last week to try to smooth over relations, he took a disturbing position: The issue of women's rights isn't universal — it's parochial, and men in other countries can decide it for themselves.
The particular question may not seem important — whether Saudi women should be allowed to drive — but the moral relativism is stark, particularly when you consider how self-assured the Obama administration is in telling Americans how to think about human rights.
As reported in the New York Times, "Wary of inflaming Saudi sensitivities, Mr. Kerry sidestepped a reporter's question about whether Saudi women should be allowed to drive, casting the debate as one ‘best left to Saudi Arabia.'"
Compare that to how the Obama administration handles "rights" questions in the United States.
"If there was ever any doubt about one of the Obama administration's key philosophical commitments, it was dispelled on Jan. 20 when the Department of Health and Human Services informed the Catholic Church that most of its agencies will be required to provide employees with insurance-coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs: i.e., products, procedures, and chemicals used to facilitate acts which the Church and plenty of others consider intrinsically evil," Samuel Gregg commented in the American Spectator.
The administration's position is clear: We know better than you.
We see the same attitude toward same-sex marriage, a topic that President Obama really didn't want to talk about, until Vice President Joe Biden forced the issue in the 2012 campaign. Now that Obama's in, he's all in, and seems determined to portray all objections to same-sex marriage (including objections he himself held until recently) as mere bigotry and discrimination.
"President Barack Obama said Friday that he would strike down a ban on same-sex marriage if he were on the Supreme Court, and that he believed his administration was obligated to weigh in on a California case before the justices," CNN reported in March, as the Supreme Court readied to consider same-sex marriage. "The California law, known as Proposition 8, does not provide any rationale for ‘discriminating against same-sex couples,' Obama said."
We bring up those issues merely to show the administration's confidence when telling Americans the correct way to think.
Where's that confidence with the international community?
Obama often says the right things.
"Empowering women isn't just the right thing to do — it's the smart thing to do," he said in March. "When women succeed, nations are more safe, more secure, and more prosperous. Over the last year, we've seen women and girls inspiring communities and entire countries to stand up for freedom and justice..."
He's absolutely right — but where is the action to back that up? We know women's rights are threatened in "friendly" countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt. But as Kerry demonstrated, the administration is too quick to dismiss blatant violations and repression, all in the name of diplomacy.
The administration must stop equivocating. Either human rights are universal, or they're not.