Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy
Mertus, Julie A., Foreign Policy in Focus
In the aftermath of the failure to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, human rights have become the most prominent justification for the Iraq War in statements by President George W. Bush and other administration officials. This represents the latest of what has become a routine pattern for numerous U.S. administrations: invoking human rights to justify a range of foreign policy decisions and military ventures. But this human rights talk has not been supported by a human rights walk. Policymakers consistently apply a double standard to human rights norms: one that the rest of the world must observe but which the U.S. can safely ignore.
Talk of human rights has become the political equivalent of a "bait and switch tactic." Like the car salesman promoting an amazing but bogus deal in order to get people into his showroom and to boost his reputation as a preferred dealer, politicians champion human rights in order to induce desired behaviors in others and to nurture a positive self-image. Then, as soon as the desired behavior occurs, they offer a substitute sentiment unreflective of a genuine concern for rights. Instead of promoting just solutions to contemporary foreign policy dilemmas, rights talk is becoming just another way to dupe otherwise-unwilling allies into supporting U.S. interests.
What's going wrong with rights?
There is nothing wrong with human rights per se, but they are often opportunistically seized upon as the best available choice for framing arguments and making policy choices. Other options, which may not be intrinsically bad, look less appealing when compared to the pretty veneer of human rights. What is wrong is that human rights remains only an option and has not achieved the status of an imperative. Furthermore, in interplay with other policies, human rights are vulnerable to misuse by powerful states plying the cause for their own benefit.
To extend the car dealer analogy, the car is a desired commodity promised by the dealer in an attractive package, but when the customer arrives, he or she finds that the option actually offered is not the same as the advertised special. The car dealer misleads people through his power of influence, stemming from the desired product he has to offer and from the magnified voice that his wealth affords him (i.e., his ability to advertise). Like the car dealer, the U.S. can use its wealth and influence to mislead other states about its commitment to a human rights framework, appearing to support universal human rights standards while actually applying double standards.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy. Contributors: Mertus, Julie A. - Author. Magazine title: Foreign Policy in Focus. Publication date: March 4, 2004. Page number: 1+. © 1999 International Relations Center. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.