The U.S. Government and Human Rights

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Historian and foreign-policy analyst James Peck argues that Washington has used the language of human rights to promote American interests abroad and further America’s global reach. In Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights, he looks at Soviet dissidents, protesters in Tiananmen Square, and today's war on terror. Peck reveals how the human rights movement often fails to challenge Washington's strategies.


James Peck

Comments [25]

oscar from ny

i cringe whenever anyone adds israel into anything that has to do with america..

Mar. 15 2011 11:04 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Jon

OK, I think we do agree mostly. I also think that LL's question was unfair and that was why Peck punted. Asking what we "could" do about human evil is pretty unfair, especially on a 30 minute segment, and I'm not trying to be flip. Really, what could have been done? Nothing really, eventually one side would win out (and did) and the status quo has returned for awhile.

While your position is clear and essentially rational I think that what Peck was trying to do was also to give some b.g. on a situation that almost nobody knows very much about, and by doing so let the audience understand for itself that there is no easy answer, no certain solution and that any armed intervention is destined for failure.

I don't think that the French or Belgians had any "cards" they could have played for that matter, they already blamed the RPF for killing the hutu president Habyarimana and effectively ignited the genocide. Hadn't they done enough? Don't forget this all started after all with an IMF "bail out" and French arms sales to the Hutu, add to that US backing of Kagame (a neo-colonial approach) and we have a s***storm bought and paid for by western interests. Complicated, ain't it?

Mar. 15 2011 03:55 PM
Jon from Jersey

@ Bad

I think you and I actually agree more on Rwanda than not. My point was not is not that the US should have directly and unilaterally intervened, exactly for the reasons you specify. Human Rights was cited at the time as the reason to get involved, but it was never clear HOW our presence there would solve the problem.
What I took issue with was Dr. Peck's answer which strictly implicated past US policy (or lack thereof) there and did not address LL question about what *could* have been done, which I think would be interesting to hear. But he punted.
The French and Belgians who truly orchestrated and exploited this existing tribal rivalry over centuries completely took a pass on it and we did little or nothing to push them to call in their cards.

Mar. 15 2011 02:26 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Jon from Jersey

OK, fair enough, but the situation was not simply ending a Genocide, or mediating, but taking sides in a civil war which is still going on to some degree (FDLR (hutu) militia is still in Eastern Congo) and may yet break out again depending on how "Deomcratic" Kagame (tutsi) intends to be, he certainly doesn't care for democratic elections:

There is simply no way an American peacekeeping force could have entered Rwanda and not become part of the military strategy of each side, it's just a basic tenant of guerrilla war. An American presence in Rwanda would have resulted in even more deaths and very likely a wider civil war and military debacle for the US IMO. The joint chiefs knew this, they may love war but they don't love losing wars and even the most hawkish of the general staff had zero interest in a repeat experience of Somalia.

Mar. 15 2011 02:07 PM
Nate Bowman

Gist of Mr. Lopate's comment to his guest:

"Yes, but if the US goes to the UN for authorization, there are countries that will block it."

Yes Mr. Lopate. Let's fulfill are treaty obligations (which happen to make it the law of the land) only when we can get the results we want.

Mar. 15 2011 01:35 PM
Jon from Jersey

@ Mr. Bad - I am not suggesting the US should have staged a unilateral intervention in Rwanda. My admittedly limited understanding is that we had a lot more leverage with France and Belgium than we exerted, who would have been the logical ones to lead a multi-national force. But Peck suggested absolutely no forward looking action that could have been taken at the time - just a historical critique of the US's role there. Historical critiques are nice in the classroom, but they do little to stop a machete in motion.

Mar. 15 2011 01:32 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

"So what I'm saying is are we really prepared to say that going to war can NEVER be a solution to the violation of human rights? A last resort perhaps, but I just don't agree with the guest's extremist viewpoint of "never". "

I love how the prospect of banishing war forever turns every American upside down with rage, even the "do-gooders" don't feel like manly men without their fantasies of armed intervention whereby good banishes evil by feat of arms.

Truly sad, this is why the human race is doomed and why we, abetted by technology, will bring about our own end. No war has ever been fought or will ever be fought over something like "human rights" so don't anybody worry their pretty little head about it, you can't lose what you've never had, just go buy something and forget it.

Mar. 15 2011 01:27 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ DarkSymbolist

Also when you write this:

"OBVIOUSLY, there were human rights issues"

You show that you OBVIOUSLY no nothing about European history, or much of anything. There is NO such thing as human rights LAW until after WW2, nor does your silly qualifier "couched in those terms" deliver you from facing up to more face saving ambiguity - and the you're right, life is too short to spar with a penny ante rhetorician with a HS level education.

Mar. 15 2011 01:01 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ DarkSymbolist & John

Look, you haven't defined any position, just implied that there was some sort of "human rights" aspect to WW2, which there was not, which is why I called you out on it.

As for Bill Clinton, that is a laugh, I'm familiar with his face saving, counter factual-claim which he is able to make now as he is out of office and no longer responsible to the public for anything he does besides chase tail. His comment is an excellent example of something that is "pathetic". Save your limp, halfhearted war mongering for the next Tea Party meetup.

Mar. 15 2011 12:53 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Mr Bad

Oh and I don't generally base my political viewpoints upon movies (my answer to your question about whether I saw Black Hawk Down) even if they are based on a real life event.

You can continue to spew out reactionary comments and assumptions until your veins pop, feel free, for me life is too short...I'm moving on to the next segment.

Next time, please read more carefully and don't try to fill in the blanks with silly assumptions, thanks!

Mar. 15 2011 12:50 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Mr Bad

I would appreciate it if you stop assuming what my viewpoints are as you are so ridiculously off the mark.

In response to your lumping me in with the other listener, I don't know what should have been done, I simply said that the guest's answer on Rwanda was pathetic...which it was.

Oh and by the way, President Clinton has gone on record as considering not doing enough on Rwanda as being one of his worst failures as President. Go ask him what he thought should have been done. I'm sure he has some ideas on the subject.

Mar. 15 2011 12:45 PM

To Reema from Brooklyn

AFter the UN authorized the compromise of a JEwish state and an Arab state in 1947, the Arabs went to war to stop the creation of a Jewish state and the new State of Israel was invaded by 5 Arab armies. In 1967, the Arab states chose to resume hostilities and to try to destroy Israel again. In both cases, the UN chose to remain impotent and Israel was forced to defend itself and to remove enemy forces from nearby areas. Since the Arabs still do not recognize the right of a Jewish state to exist, and still threaten its existence, Israel has to keep the territories, which are mostly liberated ancient Jewish territories anyway.

Mar. 15 2011 12:45 PM

Both the League of Nations in 1919 and the United Nations in 1945, made aggression and war illegal, but both failed miserably. Our only hope is that the robots take over, Terminator notwithstanding :)

Mar. 15 2011 12:40 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Mr.Bad

Am I suggesting that? "In a word, NO"!

So you say in a word "no" and then ask me to clarify my statement? Then how can you answer "no" if you are admitting to not understanding my point?????

No, I did not say we went to war in WWII for that reason.

What I am suggesting is that the fascist powers were invading other countries and subjugating the populations at the time. Obviously the Nazis violated human rights of those sovereign nations in many ways (I am not speaking just about the holocaust).

OBVIOUSLY, there were human rights issues involved (as Lenny just said) even though it was not couched in those terms.

So what I'm saying is are we really prepared to say that going to war can NEVER be a solution to the violation of human rights? A last resort perhaps, but I just don't agree with the guest's extremist viewpoint of "never".

Mar. 15 2011 12:40 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ DarkSymbolist & John

What exactly should the USA have done, send in the Marines? Tried that in Somalia already, did you see Blackhawk Down?

There was NOTHING we could have done, nothing that would have stopped the bloodbath. This was a longstanding intertribal war, the Tutsi's certainly weren't deserving of genocidal treatment, no group ever is, but they were hardly innocent of violence or political oppression of the Hutu majority either.

Mar. 15 2011 12:38 PM
Reema from Brooklyn

Interesting that the author points to Amnesty's actions as more productive than Human Rights Watch, because HRW comments on actions instead of history. But look at the example of Israel Palestine—Amnesty does not even condemn the occupation that has been in place since 1967.

Mar. 15 2011 12:36 PM
Geo from Astoria

A senior advisor to President Bush once said, when confronted with the issue of reality, 'Thats not the way the world really works anymore, we're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.'

Mar. 15 2011 12:35 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

I too think his answer on Rwanda was woefully lacking and pathetic.

Mar. 15 2011 12:31 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ DarkSymbolist

In a word, "No". There was plenty of propaganda to that end, sure, but not 'till after the war started. Are you implying we went to war to save jews from the concentration camps or some such drivel?

Mar. 15 2011 12:30 PM
Jon from Jersey

That was the biggest ivory tower dodge on Rwanda I have ever heard. Blame the US for the entire situation and then not suggest one tangible thing that could have been done to stop it. No blame to the participants, Belgians, French.
Blame the US first. works every time.

Mar. 15 2011 12:28 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

It's nice to hear an intelligent voice on this topic, I wish Lenny didn't sound so stiff ... Yes, do hate to burst your bubble but you cannot start a war to end one, you just create a bigger war. It may feel exquisitely painful to understand that as an American the fate or the world is NOT in our hands but it's the truth. A global hegemon may be a boon to commerce and economical bloodshed but like trade, war will increase exponentially as every local fracas becomes a global peril. History is my witness, especially in the last century.

Mar. 15 2011 12:27 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Was there no human rights aspect to WWII and the defeat of Hitler, even if it wasn't called "human rights" at the time?

Mar. 15 2011 12:26 PM
Melinda Hunt from East Village

Great show!

Mar. 15 2011 12:25 PM
Herb from NYC

Promo starts off with a slant:
Guantanamo: America's War on Human Rights,

Wow. so much for fair & honest reporting.

are there any hard questions from Public Radio? Why is President Obama unable to close Guantanamo?

Mar. 15 2011 09:05 AM
Ed from Larchmont

And the US does the opposite of promoting human rights when it forces abortion on countries around the world by tying it to foreign aid.

Mar. 15 2011 08:04 AM

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