President Obama has kept at least one campaign promise: agreeing to meet with nefarious world leaders.
Yesterday, President Ali Bongo Ondimba from Gabon added his name to the guest book at the White House. As director of Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center, Nile Gardiner, states, “In yet another display of extraordinarily bad judgment, the Obama Administration is extending the hand of friendship to another prominent tyrant.” Such actions are unbecoming of an American President.
Bongo and his family, the subjects of a 2010 Senate Subcommittee on Investigations Special Report, are known for using lobbyists, family connections, and U.S. trust accounts to bring $18 million in suspect funds into the United States. For decades, family members used the United States as a piggy bank to store their dirty money. According to a recent report by ABC News this should be hardly surprising, as the political dynasty has “siphoned off 25 percent of the gross domestic product of the country.”
In addition to stealing millions from his own people, Ali Bongo as well as his predecessor and father Omar Bongo are responsible for Gabon’s atrocious human rights record. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report, Gabon has an appalling human rights record including ritualistic killings, excessive force by police, harsh prison conditions and lengthy pretrial detention, extortion of immigrants and refugees, societal discrimination among select groups, and human trafficking.
With such a disgraceful reputation, what has Bongo done to deserve a White House visit? In an attempt to defend President Obama’s meeting, White House press secretary Jay Carney stated:
It’s a little naive to believe that the president of the United States should not meet with leaders who don’t, you know, meet all the standards we would have for perfect governance…. This is an important relationship.
Since when has the U.S. relationship with Gabon been important? Gabon is certainly not relevant in the same way America’s relationship with the United Kingdom, Israel, Turkey, or even Nigeria is. Carney attempted to defend Obama’s decision to meet with Bongo, saying that he has been instrumental in “American national security, U.S. interests regarding Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, and Iran and other issues.” Arguably, a lot of countries have. There is nothing special about Gabon’s role regarding U.S. strategic interests.
A meeting with the U.S. President is a major win for any foreign dignitary who travels to Washington. It is a validation of his or her legitimacy and influence on the world stage. The White House should be reserved for America’s closest allies and strategic partners rather than a run-of-the-mill tyrant who plagues his country with cronyism.