Saturday, the Clinton campaign took advantage of the upcoming St. Patrick's Day holiday to hold a press call discussing Hillary Clinton's disputed role in the nearly decade-old Northern Ireland peace talks and her intention to work to "bring peace to different parts of the world."
During the subsequent Q&A, however, Clinton's National Security Advisor, Lee Feinstein, ducked my question about the Bush Administration's decision last week to remove China from its list of human rights violators - a decision made right in the middle of escalating tensions in Tibet that have culminated in riots in Lhasa, a military crackdown on protests and media nationwide, and according to some reports, upwards of 100 deaths.
I asked Feinstein a simple, direct question: whether, in light of events in Tibet, Mrs. Clinton would call on the Bush Administration to re-list China as a human rights violator. In response, he referred to a statement he said Clinton had issued on the events in Tibet and saying that she has a long history of concern about Tibet and has talked with the Dalai Lama and Chinese officials in the past.
That's great as far as it goes -- but it ducked my question. So I asked again, directly, whether in addition to whatever she said in that statement (which, as it turns out, wasn't issued until 2-1/2 hours after the press call, and does not mention the delisting of China as a human rights violator), Clinton would call to restore China's name to the Administration's list of human rights violators. Feinstein answered that he had nothing to add to Clinton's prepared statement -- i.e., no, Clinton isn't calling for the Bush Administration to label China what it is -- a consistent violator of human rights that has been listed annually in the past and deserves to be again.
Three facts may factor into Clinton's waffling:
1. Clinton formerly served on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. importer of goods from China.
2. This summer, China will host the Olympics in Beijing.
3. The Chinese government is a significant creditor of the U.S., effectively financing our ongoing deficit spending (including the war in Iraq) by purchasing U.S. government securities - and it could destabilize our economy simply by ceasing to purchase those securities.
So it's a complicated issue, calling for nuance - but also for honesty and courage; and it isn't like putting China back on a list it's already accustomed to being on would fatally destabilize our relationship. So even if Senator Clinton is right to boast about disputable, and decade-old, foreign policy accomplishments during her husband's administration, why does her campaign lack the courage to take a direct and meaningful stand for human rights when they are being abused today, right now, as you read this? Is her "3 a.m." foreign policy "expertise" limited to words about events in the past (a questionable role in Northern Ireland, and a speech she gave in China a decade ago) - or is she willing to back up her words with a principled, effective stand on a religious and human rights conflict, similar in many ways to that in Ireland, that's actually happening today?
Put more simply: is Hillary Clinton only committed to talking about human rights in the past tense, or does she possess a present commitment to human rights that extends to the present -- and the future?
More on events on Tibet -- and contact information for China's embassy, consulates and Olympic organizers, so you can voice your concerns -- can be found here at VichyDems.