- - Tuesday, December 27, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump is known for his blunt approach. And on human rights, we are well past due for some hard truths.

From Taiwan to Cuba, Mr. Trump has made certain that the status quo must change — and this starts with a strong secretary of State.

The outgoing administration of Barack Obama has been marked by ambiguous rhetoric about the state of the world and groveling to oppressors and bullies. His legacy on human rights and counter-terrorism are deplorable.

Under Mr. Obama: global terrorist groups are up 58 percent, there is an ongoing genocide of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, Iran is emboldened, the global refugee situation is a black mark on Western values and the Middle East is unraveling.

It’s high time for a change and Donald Trump has an opportunity to restore America’s leadership as a global advocate for individual human dignity. He made clear his administration will have zero tolerance for the polite fictions that legitimize oppressors and undermine American security.

Following the brutal attack on Berlin’s Christmas Markets, Mr. Trump should make U.S. policy on human rights one of speaking hard truths, including about the global threat of Islamic terrorism.

Those who killed Americans in Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando and are spreading terror throughout the Middle East and Europe are what they are: radical Islamic terrorists who kill in the name of religion. Period.

The religious dimension of these global crises cannot be ignored, glossed over, or downplayed.

Mr. Obama tried that and it only made them worse.

Middle Eastern governments have known for years that their populations are being radicalized. These governments have tried to monitor mosques, control sermons, and restrict speech — all in the hope that they could deter young people from joining terrorist organizations.

Instead of protecting their countries from terrorism and the chaos that it brings, they have exacerbated the problem because they have not changed the way people think about others.

Less freedom isn’t the solution to oppression; only broader individual human rights and religious freedom will cure the cancer of terrorism in the name of religion.

Rex Tillerson, Mr. Trump’s nominee for secretary of State, must help governments in the Middle East address the beliefs that inspire extremism and other endemic problems that contribute to the ongoing radicalization of their populations.

As an oil executive with deep relational equity in this troubled region, Mr. Tillerson is well poised to influence change. He understands that countries destabilized by religious conflict are a risky investment. They contribute to global insecurity and humanitarian crisis.

Mr. Tillerson must convince leaders in the region to change the lens in which they view the world, through education and policies that defend the equal rights of people of all faiths in order to create communities that are resilient to extremism and violence. To this end, laws and policies that discriminate and marginalize demand amending. Education must support critical thinking and eliminate intolerant views that promote violence against minority communities and dissenters.

Today’s Iraq is a case in point. If America had prioritized these solutions in Iraq under the past two administrations, the situation there today would look very different.

Instead, the U.S. government spent trillions propping up a regime that foments intolerance and sectarian divisions. And the U.S. continues to send billions of dollars in military aid without any conditions — or a plan for victory.

As ISIS was forcing Christians to “convert or die,” Iraq’s Parliament was passing a national identity card law that would force children to convert to Islam and deny citizens the freedom to identify according to the religion of their choice. President Obama and his officials balked at the idea of recognizing the situation there as genocide or addressing the root cause of the problem — religious intolerance.

By ignoring religious freedom, Iraq will continue to perpetuate the same intolerance ISIS stands for and descend into further chaos, with or without ISIS.

The key to real stability in Iraq and other countries facing the global threat of terrorism is to stand up for universal rights — this makes us, and the world, more secure and achieves greater prosperity for everyone.

Maintaining the status quo by coddling oppressive regimes cannot continue. Part of “Making America Great Again” means making America true to its values again. It requires that we confront difficult issues head on, with “truth, liberty and justice for all.”

America’s values, rhetoric, policy and actions must align. President-elect Donald Trump’s State Department, leading with resolute truths and decisive actions can inaugurate a period of lasting freedom, security and prosperity across the globe yet to be experienced in the world. The lives of millions depend on him being a man of his (blunt) words.

Tina Ramirez is president of Hardwired Global, a former congressional aid, and a contributing author and editor of “Human Rights in the United States: A Dictionary and Documents” (2010 and 2017).

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