President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize isn't giving him cover from charges that he and his foreign policy team have looked the other way on human rights abuses by countries including China, Russia and Vietnam.
Now as Obama readies to entertain the president of Vietnam, Truong Tan Sang, next Thursday, critics are urging him to demand that the Socialist nation end its horrible record of government-sanctioned labor and sex trafficking or face U.S. sanctions.
"The president has had no voice of substance, just the opposite," said Rep. Chris Smith, the New Jersey Republican who is one of Capitol Hill's human rights leaders. "He has been AWOL like no one else in my 33 years as a member of Congress."
The White House said that the president plans to mention human rights when he meets with Vietnamese president, though they offered no details.
Smith and others, however, said that the administration is more focused on trade and agenda issues like global warming and doesn't want to derail those for a win on human rights with China or Russia.
Many activists note that when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited China in 2009, she said that pressing human rights issues "can't interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis."
Human rights advocates said that statements such as Clinton's gave the green light to nations cited in a new State Department report as human rights violators. Said Smith, "We've got to be serious, and anything less than serious means that real people get tortured, mistreated in the most horrific ways. We should stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor."
A new State Department report described Vietnam as one of the world's top traffickers of labor and sex slaves. "Vietnam is a source and, to a lesser extent, a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor," said the State report.
Smith, chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees international human rights, has written the "Vietnam Human Rights Act" with hopes of getting Congress to act where the president hasn't.
While critical of Obama, Smith said that the president should have the meeting with the Vietnamese president. "He should meet, but be very firm and say, 'Friends don't let friends violate human rights,'" said Smith.
Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.