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We Are Not Here To Lecture

by David D. Eisenhower (Principles: Military Restraint, Bipartisanship) - 1 year ago

Calling out human rights abuses by enemies is easy. Criticizing allies is harder. Should America always stand up for human rights or must other considerations take precedence?

As President Trump himself once said, the United States does not have a good record with respect to promoting human rights around the world. At our best, we have served as a safety valve – a place where refugees and  other persecuted people could come and begin a new and better life. At our worst, we propped up brutal dictators like the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein because "they were OUR SOB’s.”  Americans have accepted this as the cost of survival in a nasty world.

Jimmy Carter, for all his faults, and in fact this may have been one of them, changed that thinking. He made promoting human rights around the world a hallmark of his Presidency. Carter was tone deaf to whether the country he was lecturing was with us or against us. He was an equal-opportunity lecturer, chiding allies and enemies for human rights abuses.

Despite Carter's foreign policy failures, however, every President since Carter has given lip service to the American value of promoting freedom around the world. The military operation which overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, for example, was called Operation Enduring Freedom.

Recent Presidents have tended to focus on human rights only when it fit their larger geopopolitical goals. Ronald Reagan demanded that the Soviets "tear down this wall" while propping up a brutal junta in El Salvadore.   Even President Obama, for all his soaring rhetoric on the subject, essentially threw human right activists in Cuba under the bus in order to open diplomatic and economic ties with that country.

So it should come as no surprise, that President Trump is doing the same thing in Saudi Arabia. During the campaign, Trump found it useful to point out the many abuses used by the rulers of that Kingdom.  The press is carefully controlled, protestors are jailed, women are completely subjugated to the whims of their male relatives, the law is  made up on the fly by religious judges implementing their interpretation of Sharia Law, people are arrested and held indefinitely without even knowing the charges against them, and cruel punishment, such as public flogging, is commonplace. Religious freedom is, of course, non-existen.

Now that he is President, however, Trump, like Obama in Cuba, will not lecture the Saudis. Instead, we will sell them hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weapons, help them establish factories so that they can build their own, and give them incentive to invest their oil money in America in the hopes that it will boost our economy.  

Trump’s deals with Saudi Arabia are a win win for America in that they boost our economy and bring more force to bear against our enemy in Iran. But are we also losing something?   Is American Exceptionalism nothing more than just being the strongest, richest country in the world or is it also about promoting set of values which we believe are universal. By sacrificing those values in the name of realpolitic and economic growth, are we also sacrificing our claim to being an exceptional nation?

Comments welcome. 

Comments and Responses (1)

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By  Cool Calvin - 1 year ago
I guess I'm not as smart as you because I just don't see the problem. We know that Jimmy Carter was a scold but what we don't know was what he accomplished. Well, I guess we don't know because he didn't accomplish anything, accept letting the Iranian people choose their own government. Maybe it's me but somehow I think the world would have been better off if we had just supported the old Shah. Countries have pride, just like you and me, and they don't like to be told publicly what to do. We may never know what Trump said to the Saudi King behind closed doors but we do know that whatever he said, it's going to be more effective, and less destructive, than a public dressing down.
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