Sunday, January 22, 2006
Are Leftists Misguided (and a bit Hypocritical) on Human Rights?
Philip Stephens posed an interesting argument in the Financial Times on Thursday. He posited that leftists in general and European leftists in particular are a bit off the mark when it comes to their criticism of the Bush Administration’s human rights record. His comment came in response to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2006, which, while thorough in its documentation of human rights abuses the world over, began with and emphasized the Bush administration’s poor track record in the “war on terror.” Stephens noted that leftists, especially in Europe, devote so much time to criticizing the Bush administration’s record that they are negligent when it comes to highlighting human rights abuses in the rest of the world. The Bush administration’s record is atrocious and as an American I find it embarrassing. However, Stephens does have a point. I would add that leftists are not always above reproach in their relations to human rights abusers. Angelika Merkel (not a leftist) was fully justified in condemning Guantanamo Bay after her meeting with George Bush. However, the previous (leftist) German government under Gerhard Schroeder (last seen opposing the war in Iraq and striking a blow for leftists and anti-militarists everywhere) and the Social Democrats was almost unseemly in its scramble to establish “strategic partnerships” with two major human rights abusers, Russia and China, in order to sell weapons to the latter and buy energy from the former. In addition, Schroeder’s new job as a supervisory board chairman for an energy company partly funded by Gazprom, the state-owned Russian energy company, did not exactly strike a blow for leftist idealism. Surely he could have gotten a gig with Bono and Bob Geldorf instead….What is more, Labour MPs in the United Kingdom should spend less time scoring political points on Tony Blair for his policy of partnership with the United States and more time supporting Blair’s admirable attempt to spotlight Africa, where human rights abuses abound. As for the French, where even the Conservatives are leftist (comparatively speaking), they could commit at least a bit of the time they spend America-bashing to some self-reflection on their government and industry’s friendly relationship with Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1990’s. How about one or two fewer headlines in the Guardian and The Independent about the U.S. in Iraq and one or two more about prison camps in China or dissidents in Cuba. Now, this is not to urge leftists to hold their tongues. By all means, the Bush administration deserves the criticism it gets for its human rights record. However, American foreign policy, poor as it has been for the last few years, is not the epicenter of human rights violations in the world, and should not be treated as such. When American foreign policy becomes the focus of human rights campaigners it shifts our attention from the myriad of human rights problems elsewhere, many of which rarely see the light of day.