Thursday, January 20, 2011

Human rights hypocrisy

The visit of China's President Hu has raised some awkward questions about human rights. As just about everyone with a computer has pointed out, last year's Nobel peace laureate got to host the man who's imprisoned this years laureate. And as has also been pointed out, Nobel peace prizes aren't what they used to be (and they never really were), so maybe it's no big deal.

Still, what should our government do about human rights? Stand up for them all the time, or only when it's easy? Punish nations that violate them (is that why we've inflicted on ourself the penance of the Obama Administration?) or trade with them? While Tunisia was useful as a secular Arab state and enemy of Al Qaeda, we ignored the brutality of its government. Egypt is a strategic partner, so don't get excited about Mubarak breaking a few fingers. If a central Asian country helps us out in Afghanistan, it must be just like Oregon but with yurts and mutton-kebabs.

We have to understand that national human rights efforts will always be hypcritical. As America moves throughtout the world, it can always punish the weak and the useless but must always engage the powerful, the dangerous and the useful. I suppose we should just be glad the French aren't torturing Algerians anymore; we're never quite certain whether we want to engage them or start eating "freedom fries."

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