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Obama at the UN: Will He Sound the Trumpet for Human Rights?

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To update Tom Paine, these are times that try men's souls. It's been an American summer of discontents--from an uncertain economic recovery, to an acrimonious health care reform debate hotter than global warming, to ACORN's inglorious examples of how not to "community organize." And now, President Obama makes his first foray to the United Nations--right between the Shofar blasts of Rosh Hashana and the Introspection of Yom Kippur.

What an opportunity for President Obama, after a tumultuous eight months in office, to announce at the UN an auspicious new beginning for his Administration by sounding America's trumpet as the champion of human rights--from Tehran to Caracas, and Pyongyang to Sudan. How better to unify Americans and to inspire our friends around the world impatiently waiting for America again to lead toward human rights. Ground Zero of the world's conscience waiting on America are Iran's people: brave enough to shout "death to the dictator" Ahdmadinejad in the mist of the hatred and lies of Nuremberg-style rallies orchestrated by their country's genocidal mullahcracy.

Here are ten global arenas that are crying out for renewed U.S. human rights engagement:

• Obama's invocation of democracy, not as an American imposition, but as a "human right" was among the biggest applause lines of his Cairo speech. Will the President use his bully pulpit to embrace the brave democratic voices across the Arab and Muslim world struggling against a sea of corruption and suppression?
• The displacement and deaths of non-Arab Sudanese by the Khartoum regime--the twenty-first century's single biggest human rights tragedy--cannot continue to be swept under the rug in the name of realpolitiks or oil profits.
• Israel-Palestine will edge closer to peace only when the President not only demands a settlement freeze but dismisses the verdicts of anti- Israel UN kangaroo courts and urges the arab world to join him in recognizing the Jewish People's historic 3,500 year relationship with the Holy Land.
• China--our most important economic partner--remains a serial abuser of the rights of Tibetans, Muslim Ughurs, and Falun Gong. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan found a way to combine commitment to human rights with pursuit of Soviet-American détente, the Obama Administration must do the same with regard to human rights and Sino-American détente.
• Japan's new experiment with electing the opposition may not succeed in building an reinvigorated democracy and ally if the U.S. continues to ignore the gulags and coddle the proliferation challenge from Northeast Asia's biggest bully--North Korea's Kim Jong Il.
• Southeast Asia--from Myanmar, where Aung San Suu Kyi braves the silence of house arrest, to Indonesia, where Islamic democracy is a reality--voices await for encouragement from the American President.
• Western and Northern Europe, which likes to give the rest of the world self-righteous lectures about human rights, itself needs to be reminded of its own failures to contain a rising tide of anti-Semitism or to integrate its growing Muslim minority.
• Eastern Europe, as evidenced by the backlash against the abrupt cancellation of the U.S.'s promised missile shield on the seventieth anniversary of the Germany's WWII invasion of Poland, may waver in its democratic commitments if it continues to feel its being treated as a political and economic poor relation.
• Latin America democracies like Colombia and Argentina may falter if the U.S. doesn't begin to take more seriously the subversive threat posed by Venezuela's Iran-allied "Castro on steroids"--Hugo Chavez.
• The United Nations itself, where President Obama will preside over a Security Council meeting, is doomed to remain a paper tiger as long as its human rights potential is stifled by the stranglehold maintained by anti-human rights bureaucracies such as the UN's misnamed Human Rights Council in Geneva.

By throwing down the gauntlet to the global rogues' gallery--including Muammar Gaddafi, Hugo Chavez, and Mohammed Ahmadinejad--who will be in attendance at this year's UN confab in New York, Barack Obama can remind people abroad as well as at home why his election initially electrified their hopes for "change we can believe in." From Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, to JFK's New Frontier, to Ronald Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, Dear Down this Wall," the world has heard a clarion call before. Now it the time for America's eloquent new trumpeter to sound the message that this nation--no matter the difficulties--won't retreat from its global human rights commitments.

Historian Harold Brackman, a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center co-authored this essay.