Human Rights Review

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 93–107 | Cite as

Obama’s Implicit Human Rights Doctrine

  • Amitai EtzioniEmail author


During his first year in office, President Barack Obama has outlined a human rights doctrine. The essence of Obama’s position is that the foreign policy of the USA is dedicated to the promotion of the most basic human right—the right to life—above and beyond all others and that the USA will systematically refrain from actively promoting other rights, even if this merely entails sanctions or raising a moral voice. This article details and examines Obama’s position and assesses its normative standing.


Human rights Obama Life Foreign policy 


  1. Bauer J. R., Bell, D. A. (eds). 1999. The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bureau of International Information Programs. 2006. “Libya Important Model for Regime Behavior Change, Rice Says.” Available at (retrieved 14 January 2010).
  3. Colvin, R. 2009 “Obama rights record questioned ahead of Nobel prize.” Available at (retrieved 10 January 2010).
  4. Cooper, H., Landler, M. 2009. “For Obama, Pressure To Strike Firmer Tone.” New York Times 18 June: A16.Google Scholar
  5. Democracy. 2010. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Available at (retrieved 14 January 2010).
  6. Donnelly, J. 2007. “The Relative Universality of Human Rights.” Human Rights Quarterly 29 (2): 281–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Etzioni, A.2004. How Patriotic is the Patriot Act? New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Etzioni, A. 2007. Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Evans, G. 2004. “Uneasy Bedfellows: ‘The Responsibility to Protect’ and Feinstein-Slaughter's ‘Duty to Prevent.’” Commentary presented at the American Society of International Law Conference, Washington DC, 1 April.Google Scholar
  10. Feinstein, L., Slaughter, A. M. 2004. “A Duty to Prevent”. Foreign Affairs 83 (1): 136–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fukuyama, F. 1992. End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  12. Holzgrefe, J. L., Keohane, R. O. 2003. Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical, Legal, and Political Dilemmas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. 2001. “Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty.” Available at (retrieved 10 January 2010).
  14. Kristol, W. 2006. “The Long War.” The Weekly Standard 11 (24): 9.Google Scholar
  15. Kull, S., Ramsey, C., Weber, S., Lewis, E., Mohseni, E. 2009. “Public Opinion in the Islamic World on Terrorism, al Qaeda, and US Policies.”, February 25. Available at (retrieved 14 January 2010).
  16. Kurlantzick, J. 2009. “A Nobel winner who went wrong on rights.” Washington Post 13 December: Outlook B01.Google Scholar
  17. Landler, M. 2009. “Clinton Outlines Obama's ‘Agile’ Agenda on Rights.” New York Times 15 December: A14.Google Scholar
  18. Malinowski, T. 2009. “Overly Cautious.” In K. Roberts, T. Tang, S. Ellingwood, F. Zhang (eds). “Obama’s Soft Approach on Human Rights.” Available at (retrieved 14 January 2010).
  19. Mosk, M. 2009. “Obama too polite in Shanghai for some Rights defenders see forum as a key ‘missed opportunity.’” Washington Times 17 November: A3.Google Scholar
  20. Obama, B. 2008. “A World That Stands as One.” Available at (retrieved 10 January 2010).
  21. Obama, B. 2009a. “Inaugural Address.” Available at (retrieved 10 January 2010).
  22. Obama, B. 2009b. “Remarks by the President at the Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.” Available at (retrieved 10 January 2010).
  23. Obama, B. 2009c. “Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on the Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Available at (retrieved 10 January 2010).
  24. Obama, B. 2009d. “Remarks by the President on a New Beginning.” Available at (retrieved 10 January 2010).
  25. Obama, B. 2009e. “Statement by the President on the Attempted Attack on Christmas Day and Recent Violence in Iran.” Available at (retrieved 10 January 2010).
  26. Obama, B. 2009f. “The President's Opening Remarks on Iran.” Available at (retrieved 10 January 2010).
  27. Obama eases Cuba travel restrictions. 2009. Available at (retrieved 14 January 2010).
  28. Pew Global Attitudes Survey. 2005. “Islamic Extremism: Common Concern for Muslim and Western Publics.” Available at, (retrieved 18 April 2006).
  29. Rhem, K. T. 2001. “Rumsfeld on Terrorists: Drain the Swamp They Live In.” American Forces Press Service Available at (retrieved 5 March 2010).
  30. Rorty, R. 2007. “Dewey and Posner on Pragmatism and Moral Progress.” The University of Chicago Law Review 74 (3): 915–927.Google Scholar
  31. Roth, K. 2010. “Empty Promises?” Foreign Affairs 89 (2): 10–16.Google Scholar
  32. Sandel M. 2009. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  33. Stephens, B. 2009. “Does Obama Believe in Human Rights?” Wall Street Journal 20 October: A19.Google Scholar
  34. Udombana, N. J. 2004. “When Neutrality is a Sin: The Darfur Crisis and the Crisis of Humanitarian Intervention in Sudan.” Human Rights Quarterly 27 (4): 1149–1199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. United Nations. 1993. “Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action at the World Conference on Human Rights.” Available at (retrieved 11 June 2009).
  36. U.N. Secretariat. 2002. “Secretary-General Addresses International Peace Academy Seminar on ‘The Responsibility to Protect.’” SG/SM/8125. February 15.Google Scholar
  37. Wasserstrom, J. M. 2009. “Oratory for Lawyers.” In K. Roberts, T. Tang, S. Ellingwood & F. Zhang (eds). “Obama’s Soft Approach on Human Rights.” Available at (retrieved 14 January 2010).
  38. Wines, M., LaFraniere, S. 2009. “Obama shies away from conflict on China trip.” International Herald Tribune 18 November: News 3.Google Scholar
  39. Zakaria, F. 1997. “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy.” Foreign Affairs 76 (6): 22–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations