Almost everyone has heard the expression “Do as I say, not as I do.” It is used to rationalize an action by the speaker which the speaker has told the listener is inappropriate. It is used to justify a double standard by which the speaker is exempted from the standard imposed on the listener.
The United States is beginning to find itself in the position of the speaker in this expression.
The United States has had an on-again, off-again relationship with human rights, sometimes making them the cornerstone of our foreign policy, sometimes ignoring them altogether. We have ignored them in Iran, in Egypt with its treatment of Christian Copts, in China with its treatment of Tibet and followers of the Dalai Lama, and in concerning the treatment of Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. On the other side, we have gone to war in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo to protect ethnic minorities.
Our support — or lack thereof — for the Human Rights Commission has exhibited a similar schizophrenia. The Commission’s reputation — especially as being so one-sided against Israel — was so bad that the UN decided to reorganize and recast it as the UN Human Rights Council. We boycotted the Commission under the Bush administration. The Obama administration sought a seat on it in order to moderate the behavior of the Council.
What happens when the United States — which frequently lectures other countries about their human rights shortcomings, such as Israel on the rights of Palestinians — is the target of a report of the HRC condemning its human rights record?
The Guardian reported this week that a UN investigator probing discrimination against Native Americans has called on the U.S. government to return some of the land stolen from Indian tribes as a step toward combating continuing and systemic racial discrimination.
James Anaya, the UN special reporter on the rights of indigenous peoples, encountered Native Americans who suffered a history of dispossession of their lands and resources, the breakdown of their societies, and “numerous instances of outright brutality, all grounded on racial discrimination.” He is seeking restoration to Native Americans of “what obviously they’re entitled to and…have a legitimate claim to in a way that is not divisive but restorative.” However, he would reserve detailed recommendations on a plan for land restoration until he presents his final report to the HRC in September.
The United States is now in a position in which it has put others. What will it do in light of this report? Will it ignore the report? Criticize it? And what will the UN do if the United States does not implement the report? If the United States does implement the recommendations, how will this be received domestically?
In a similar but not identical vein, the United States has continually lectured Israel not to bomb Iran preemptively to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and corresponding delivery systems; the rest of the world is backing the U.S. position.
The Obama administration entered and promised to reset relations between the United States and Russia, contending that the Bush administration was too confrontational with Russia. Remember the famous “reset button?”
NATO planned to build a missile defense system with sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Its stated purpose was to defend the United States and Western Europe from missiles from Iran and other rogue states. Russia protested, stating that the proposed system was a threat to it and demanded the abandonment of the system.
President Obama abandoned the proposed system, pleasing the Russians by substituting another, less threatening, system. At the time, critics said Obama had given the Russians veto power over U.S. defenses.
The Russians have not been pleased with the speed of negotiations on the revised missile defense system. This led to Obama’s infamous open microphone faux pas this past March, when he told Russia’s outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev that it would be better to leave talks about NATO’s missile defense system until after U.S. elections in November, when Obama would have “more flexibility.”
This did not satisfy the Russians. Last week, at an international conference on missile defense where Russian officials lobbied against the NATO missile shield, Nikolai Makarov, a top Russian general, raised the possibility of a preemptive strike against launch sites if a deal could not be reached. So we have Russia, playing the role of Israel and feeling so menaced (but not existentially) by a NATO missile defense system that it threatens preemptive action.
The United States says the radar and interceptor missiles it plans to place in Eastern Europe won’t have the ability to shoot down Russian missiles. Sounds like a statement Iran might make. However, if this is true, it would allow Russian missiles to strike Europe and the United States without interception. Not a good defense system on the part of NATO.
Will the United States marshal the same arguments against a Russian preemptive strike as with Israel?
Or will double standards apply once again?