Last night, President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address highlighting many important and pressing issues – education, tax reform, and the environment. Though the majority of the speech focused on domestic issues, foreign policy mentions were snuck in here and there. Here’s a deeper look at a few foreign policy points relating to genocide prevention mentioned (and not mentioned) by the President.
President Obama briefly mentioned Syria, stating, “We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian.” This is a significant softening of language from last year, when he declared Syria’s infamous President Bashar al-Assad should be removed from power. With al-Assad still in control and 70,000 civilians dead, is this brief statement enough? No. Almost two years since the civil war began, this critical issue was reduced to one sentence in what is arguably the most important speech of the year.
Speaking on America’s responsibility to pave the way for freedom around the world, Obama said,
I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon – when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, “There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that.”
Though the opposition party in Burma has made recent victories and a small number of political prisoners have been released, most seats in the lower house are still occupied by the government party – all while a startling number of military and ethnic clashes are being reported.
Since the Obama administration lifted sanctions on Burma, foreign companies are now allowed to invest in a country that is not stable. This could backfire and lead to the funding of military operations against ethnic groups in the country. Though there is hope for a better future in Burma, it may not be possible without re-imposing sanctions.
Sudan wasn’t mentioned at all in the State of the Union. Perhaps things are looking up? Not exactly. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Millions are still in internally displaced persons camps and millions more rely on aid to survive. Focus should be on stopping the current attacks against those in Sudan, providing emergency aid to areas under siege, and making sure Bashir is arrested and convicted for his crimes. And a top priority should be to appoint a new special envoy to Sudan.
Genocide Prevention: Keeping Arms out of the Hands of Dictators
President Obama ended his speech by touching on domestic gun violence and emphasizing that gun control needs to become a priority in America. What wasn’t mentioned during the speech was the fact that guns threaten the lives of children not just at home but in countries all around the world. Beginning in March, the Arms Trade Treaty will again be the topic of United Nations talks. If the measure is passed, there will be significant actions made to keep arms dealers from selling to perpetrators of human rights violations and war criminals.
If President Obama wants the United States to “remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change,” we have to be the leaders and enact policy that will make the freedoms of all global citizens possible.