Ken Roth in Foreign Policy:
As Donald Trump prepares to take office, many fear a new hostility to human rights on the part of the United States. From his divisive rhetoric about minorities to his embrace of autocrats abroad, there is plenty to worry about.
Trump presents a stark contrast with President Barack Obama, whose tone was strikingly different. In a 2011 speech at the State Department, for example, Obama said U.S. support for universal rights “is not a secondary interest” but a “top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at [the U.S. government’s] disposal.” During his eight years in office, his administration did sometimes live up to that rhetoric, and it never stooped to the kind of open disdain of human rights concerns that is feared from Trump.
But the truth is, a careful review of Obama’s major human rights decisions shows a mixed record. In fact, he has often treated human rights as a secondary interest — nice to support when the cost was not too high, but nothing like a top priority he championed.