Sound the Trumpet: The United States and Human Rights Promotion (Interview with Lawrence J. Haas)
by RUTH KING
August 17, 2012
In the introduction to his remarkable book Sound The Trumpet-The United States and Human Rights Promotion, Lawrence J. Haas avers that the United States has been the world's leading promoter of human rights over the course of modern history, by example and by determination to pressure repressive regimes and engage with and inspire their dissidents.
While giving requisite credit to other religions and cultures, Haas states that the concept and practice of these essential freedoms is generally a Western and Judeo/Christian phenomenon which evolved from the Protestant Reformation, the Founding Principles of the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and Capitalism. However, in this book, Haas, a senior fellow for United States foreign policy at The American Foreign Policy Council and former Communications Director for Vice President Albert Gore, concentrates on the period since World War 11, and discusses the contradictions between the desire to promote human rights in every corner of the world and the inherent collision with national interest, the sovereignty of other nations, unwillingness to commit military force and the possible aftermath that replaces one thug with another, that confounded every administration.
The first chapter "America the Essential" is a paean to America. As Haas eloquently states, America is special in "...that we have values to cherish and a system to emulate, that we are a tool of Providence with a mission to fulfill, that we can inspire others around the world and change the course of history, and that our system of government is simply better than the alternatives."
These are strong and welcome and inspiring words in the present cultural climate when the media, politicians and academics so often deride our values, our mission, our goals and our religious beliefs. How often do we hear from the left the word "imperialist" coupled with the claim that we trample on people's cultural legacies when we seek to impose freedoms they neither crave nor need. How often have we heard purveyors of "real-politick" and isolationism scoff at popular uprisings and the notion that a principled and muscular stance on human rights imperils our trade, our supply of energy, our alliances and our national security? Haas gives the lie to both in chapter after chapter by demonstrating how successive Presidents have used the "bully pulpit," and economic sanctions as well as foreign aid to persuade tyrants and encourage their opposition. One need only revisit the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of the Soviet Union which is meticulously detailed to be convinced.
The post war push for a robust human rights policy started with the unlikely and accidental presidency of Harry Truman who placed the Marshall Plan to rebuild devastated Western Europe and support for freedom as centerpieces of his platform. Truman had always harbored suspicions about Russia's'intention to enslave the nations of Eastern Europe. As the Cold War escalated, In explaining his reasoning behind what became known as the Truman Doctrine he unabashedly stated: " One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantee of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression. The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms."
To his great credit Haas contrasts this bracing statement with the reluctance of today's American pundits, legislators and academics who are "less willing to compare systems, less confident that we have something better to offer, we are more reluctant to promote the blessings of our system around the world."
After Truman, although the Cold War dominated America's foreign policy, Haas describes how successive administrations dealt with the inherent issue of human rights violations in the Soviet Union. There were notable failures to protect dissidents and popular uprisings in East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Although John Kennedy wins high marks for his defiance of East Germany and the speech where he declared himself "Ein Berliner" there is no mention of the botched "Bay of Pigs invasion" which was proposed by President Eisenhower in 1960 to provoke a counterrevolution in Cuba to oust Fidel Castro and restore democracy in Cuba.
The administration of Richard Nixon and the interregnum of another accidental president Gerald Ford, are properly excoriated by Haas. Under pressure from Kissinger both Nixon and Ford put human rights, particularly with respect to the Soviet Union on the back burner. While the dissident movements in Russia and Poland heated up, they were dismissed and ignored. Ford refused a visit by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a prominent Soviet dissident, in spite of pleas by a disparate group such as Senators Strom Thurmond, Henry ‘Scoop" Jackson, Jesse Helms and his own Chief of Staff Richard Cheney. Ford lost the election to Jimmy Carter in 1976 . In a debate he made the risible and ignorant claim that Poland was not dominated by the Soviet Union.
Carter who talked the talk of human rights but walked back from any confrontation with the Soviet Union was trounced by Ronald Reagan in 1980. For his vision and his determination and his invaluable role in bringing down the Soviet Empire, Reagan wins high praise from Haas. Haas quotes Ronald Reagan's words in 1983: "We must stand by all our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives- on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua-to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been our from birth." Congress also wins praise for supporting the dissidents in the Soviet Union as do many of the non-government organizations.
Succeeding Presidents have a mixed record and Haas provides a balanced overview of their successes as well as their failures. One disappointment is his general praise for President Clinton's Balkan policy with a curt dismissal of his appalling indifference to the massacres in Rwanda.
The attacks of 9/11 significantly altered the dialogue on human rights. President Bush escalated the rhetoric and committed American troops which have failed their goal and left a legacy of chaos instead of freedom and democracy. President Obama took office with more interest in forging warmer relations rather than confrontation and has been significantly reticent and slow to react on human rights violations.
Lawrence Haas has written an original, fair, and meticulously researched and documented history of America's role in promoting human rights. Furthermore, this book is a perfect guide for an election year. There are serious differences between both national parties and candidates. Although we are focused on the economy, foreign policy and stance on human rights are critical concerns and Lawrence Haas has provided us with necessary tools to evaluate the differences and the challenges that will face the next President of the United States. Read this book.
Mr. Haas has graciously agreed to an interview:
RK: Let's start with your appraisal of President Clinton who ignored massacres in Rwanda, but committed force to oust Serbian tyrant Milosevic who was already on his way out. In your book you cite respect for national sovereignty as a concern in promoting human rights, however in 1999, the Clinton administration drew up the "Rambouillet Agreement" which was, a demand for Serbia to withdraw from Kosovo. This was in direct contravention of previously stated U.S. policy which declared that no national minority had the right to form a new state on other state territories. Today, Kosovo is ruled by thugs, one of whom Prime Minister Thaci is accused of trafficking in human organs. Your comments?
LJH: Among their arguments, skeptics of human rights promotion have long suggested that outside powers should respect national sovereignty before rushing to protect the victims of genocide and other human rights abuses within other countries. In more recent years, however, global leaders and NGOs have increasingly set aside those concerns by embracing a concept known as the "responsibility to protect," which suggests that outside forces have a responsibility to protect victims within the borders of other lands. A recent example is the Western effort to protect the rebels in Libya from a likely slaughter by Muammar Gaddafi. To be sure, the Balkans these days is no paradise and the backgrounds, of some of Kosovo's leaders raise legitimate questions. Nevertheless, I'm hard-pressed to conclude that, even with its current problems, the Balkans is not a better place today than in the troubled 1990s - before the United States stepped in to stop the slaughter.
RK: Amnesty International wins high points in your book. On its website Amnesty declares:" Living free from violence is a human right, yet millions of women and girls suffer disproportionately from violence both in peace and in war, at the hands of the state, in the home and community. Across the globe, women are beaten, raped, mutilated, and killed with impunity." In practice, however, Amnesty International has joined other human rights organizations in hypocritical criticism of Israel while ignoring Muslim " honor killings"in every Arab nation and focusing only on Pakistan. Have they now joined the United Nations is selective outrage against human rights violations?
LJH: Although, in Sound the Trumpet, I praise Amnesty International (AI) and other human rights groups for helping to put human rights more squarely on the global agenda starting in the 1970s, I take your point that AI and the others have focused far too much attention on Israel and an appallingly inadequate amount of attention on honor killings and other human rights abuses in the Muslim world. When it comes to that issue, these groups are often as much a part of the problem as the solution.
RK: In 2000, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went to North Korea for meetings with Kim Jong II. Her statement was quite proper: "We must each meet our responsibilities to eliminate threats, reduce tension, build confidence and expand ties. ... We must each do our part if the Cold War is truly to end, and gone with it the division that has caused such suffering to the people of Korea." However, and in spite of failed entreaties and warnings from succeeding Secretaries of State, North Korea remains a hell hole rife with violations of human rights. What role do Secretaries of State play in formulating and implementing human rights policies? Is there any Secretary of State that gets good grades from you?
LJH: As I note in Sound the Trumpet, all administrations (including their Secretaries of State) balance human rights needs against the realities of national security, regional stability, U.S. access to natural resources, and other short-term necessities. I don't blame them for doing so. As for grading them on the human rights front, the question isn't whether a Secretary of State makes the grade. A Secretary of State merely carries out the policies of the President. The question is whether the President makes the grade. Some do and some don't. I don't fault any President for making necessary compromises when it comes to human rights promotion. I fault, most prominently, those like Nixon and Ford who didn't think human rights promotion has any legitimate role in U.S. foreign policy, and also those like George H.W. Bush and Obama who didn't think that it should have as central a role as I think it should. Among those who knew better and acted better were Truman and Reagan and, in their better moments, Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, and George W. Bush.
RK: You say, correctly so, that the Presidents set the agenda, but diplomatic style in dealing with tyrants and friends is also essential. Are there any Secretaries of State that have been very effective in dealing with human rights issues----for example in Myanmar or the Middle East?
LJH: Some of our Secretaries of States surely have had their shining moments on the human rights front. Reagan's first Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, publicly tied Reagan's anti-Soviet thrust to human rights, making clear that by seeking victory in the Cold War, the United States was trying to secure the human rights of hundreds of millions of people trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Condoleezza Rice, who became George W. Bush's Secretary of State in 2005, delivered a landmark address at the American University in Cairo that year, announcing that rather than continue to support friendly dictators in the Middle East, the United States would support "the democratic aspirations of all people" (though Bush obviously lost his enthusiasm for the effort later in his term). Obama's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has grown increasingly impressive on human rights, criticizing China's human rights record in ever-more strident terms and reacting with an appropriate mix of enthusiasm and caution to the changes that are taking place in Myanmar.
RK: In the book you write that the CIA and the Catholic Church worked with priests in Poland to help the underground. Can you tell us about that?
LJH: This is just one aspect of an extraordinarily successful U.S. effort at human rights promotion, one that literally helped bring down the Soviet Union. President Reagan, who took office in early 1981, built a secret alliance with Pope John Paul II, who had assumed his position in late 1978. They shared a desire to weaken Moscow's grip on Eastern Europe, and they worked together to pressure Soviet-bloc governments and give the growing dissident movement behind the Iron Curtain the resources that it needed to succeed. The covert aid that flowed from the CIA and the Catholic Church to Polish priests and the underground was an important part of that effort.
RK: In the book you present the debate between those who claim Islam is at the core anti-modern, anti-western and anti-democratic, and those who argue that real Islam has been hijacked by radical forces. The argument from the point of view of human rights seems to validate the former since human rights are abused and trampled in all Arab nations and most Moslem nations. The Arab Spring has ushered new faith driven tyrants who will impose harsh Sharia laws on the population. Any comments on how this problem bedevils those who would support the rebels in Syria?
LJH: This is a very tough issue. I take your point that human rights abuse is a common feature of Muslim-dominated societies, but I'm reluctant to go so far as to say that Islam is, at its core, inherently incompatible with human rights. I know too many thoughtful, devoted, and prominent Muslims - such as Zuhdi Jasser, Irshad Manji, and Zainab Al-Suwaij - who insist that human rights and Islam can go hand in hand and, more importantly, who are working to promote a liberal, tolerant version of Islam. Yes, the Arab Spring has helped radical Islamist forces rise to greater power and prominence across the Arab world. But, keep in mind, that's largely because the United States supported friendly dictators for decades and didn't do nearly enough to spur democratic movements in the region. So, when the dictators began to fall, only the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical forces were positioned to take advantage of the turmoil. Looking ahead, the United States should do what it did not do enough of before - to push for freedom and democracy and, in the course of that push, speak out against authoritarian rulers while working with democratic forces on the ground. That's true whether the authoritarians in question are the last remaining dictators in the region or new radical Islamist forces that also do not respect human rights. I suspect that the fervor for freedom and democracy will not end as the Muslim Brotherhood and perhaps other radicals to power. I suspect, instead, that it's just beginning. In that sense, we may not know the outcome of the Arab Spring for years, if not decades. As the region marinates in more turmoil, the United States should do what it can to nudge it towards freedom and democracy and promote such values as pluralism, tolerance, and gender and minority rights.
RK: Why have so many proponents of human rights selectively targeted Israel which remains a democracy in spite of external and internal threats from implacable enemies?
LJH: The answers are several-fold. First, Israel's enemies spend lots of time and money to disseminate a narrative about the Jewish State not only across the Middle East but across the Western world as well - a narrative that does not comport with reality but, nevertheless, that lazy academics, cowed journalists, and ignorant populations are willing to accept. Second, anti-Israeli sentiment is often a convenient cover for anti-Semitism and, with evidence that anti-Semitism is on the rise across the West, we should not be surprised that knee-jerk anti-Israeli sentiment is on the rise as well. Third, wealthy Muslims contribute huge sums to human rights-related groups across the Western world that, then beholden to these funders, reflect their anti-Israeli sentiment.
RK: I don't anticipate that you would reveal your choice in the upcoming Presidential elections. But, can you tell us what questions on human rights policy would you pose to the candidates?
LJH: I would press the candidates to discuss how they view the U.S. role in promoting human rights over the long term, and how they would balance that role against such immediate concerns as threats to national security, regional stability, and U.S. access to natural resources. Would they push both U.S. allies and adversaries to provide more freedom and democracy to their people? Do they believe that human rights abuses across the Arab world, in North Korea, in Cuba, and elsewhere are legitimate U.S. concerns? If so, what would they do about them? Would they, for instance, use their "bully pulpit" to speak out? Would they go further and, where possible, cut or withhold foreign aid to rights-abusing regimes? Would they provide rhetorical and substantive aid to dissident forces in authoritarian lands? How would they choose when to provide such aid and when not to?
RK: Lawrence Haas we are in your debt for your principled service to this country, for providing us with this most thoughtful and informative book. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.
LAWRENCE J. HAAS IS A SENIOR FELLOW FOR U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AT THE AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY COUNCIL. AN AWARD WINNING JOURNALIST, HE APPEARS FREQUENTLY ON TELEVISION AND RADIO. hE HAS SERVED AS COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE AND BEFORE THAT FOR THE WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET.
Ruth King is a freelance writer. She has written a book and articles on gardening, and also writes a monthly column in OUTPOST, the publication of Americans for a Safe Israel.