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Saturday, December 14, 2002

Who is for human rights?

Bill Keller writes that opponents as well as proponents of a U.S.-led war with Iraq are displaying selective enthusiasm for human rights. Hawks highlight Saddam Hussein's barbarity, but the U.S. government continues to turn a blind eye to gross human rights violations in many countries, creating a credibility gap about American motives. Meanwhile, antiwar activists downplay Hussein's cruelty lest they seem to endorse intervention. For them, opposing war means turning a blind eye to tyranny in Iraq.

Keller asks: "Why, aside from their roots in the Vietnam antiwar movement, are human rights activists not more open to the idea that America can use its unmatched muscle for good?" Great question. Keller's answer? "In large part because Republican administrations — in truth, Democratic ones as well — have paid human rights little more than lip service, and little even of that." ("The selective conscience," New York Times 12.14.02, reg req'd)

Where should liberals come down in current debate? For human rights, surely — which means dismissing the outrageous moral relativism of the antiwar left on the one hand and the unilateralist nationalism of the go-it-alone right on the other. But what does an assertively pro-human rights position look like in the debate about Iraq? George Packer talks to leading liberal intellectuals, who distrust Bush but accept the moral case for intervention against genocidal tyrants, to find out. ("The liberal quandary over Iraq," New York Times Magazine 12.8.02, reg req'd)

Meanwhile, liberals must come to terms with the changing nature of war. Niall Ferguson spells it out in "War Names," and highlights the implications that will most unnerve liberals:

Long before Clausewitz, the Roman writer Vegetius put it neatly: Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. The converse of this might seem even more paradoxical, not to say Orwellian: if you want war, then prepare for peace. In other words, the surest way to make war more frequent would be for the United States to follow the European example and disarm, or simply heed the old isolationist call to bring "our boys" back home. For the enemies of the United States know only too well that the Achilles' heel of American foreign policy is the habitual reluctance of the electorate to risk the lives of American servicemen in far-flung conflicts. ("War names," New York Times Magazine 12.15.02, reg req'd)

Tyranny cannot effectively be challenged, nor can democracy be extended in the world, without American leadership. And America cannot lead without liberals who make human rights, democracy, and responsible international cooperation a political priority. Why aren't these Democratic priorities?

Copyright © 2002 by Philocrites | Posted 14 December 2002 at 8:00 PM

Previous: Liberalism's Iraq dilemma.
Next: Foreign policy for liberals.

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