The Taliban may be a serial repeat offender of human rights in general and of women’s rights, but moral considerations are not looming large in current debates about Afghan strategy.
President Barack Obama’s address speech tomorrow provides an opportunity not only to make the case for sending more troops to Afghanistan, but also to respond to criticism that the administration is overly realist in its foreign policy.
Politico.com carries an insightful assessment of the realist turn in Democratic foreign policy circles and within the party’s base. It also quotes democracy and human rights activists’ concerns that its engagement fetish is blinding the administration to the political utility of a forceful approach to human rights:
“Engagement is one of the most bloodless, uninspiring, and virtually meaningless concepts in American foreign policy. It’s just a process,” said [Human Rights Watch’s Tom] Malinowski. “He [Obama] ran on a process because we had a president who ignored the process. But you need both means and ends, and the means are often uninspiring and boring and plodding and bureaucratic, but the ends have to be inspiring to capture people’s imagination and win their support.”
Others said the White House has forgotten President Bill Clinton’s successful use of human rights not just as a public relations tool but as a diplomatic cudgel against international bad actors.
“It’s a mistake,” said one former Clinton administration official of Obama’s approach, “because human rights create some of the most innovative diplomatic tools the U.S. has. The creation of the war crimes tribunals allowed us to remove some obstructionist actors” in the Balkans, and their threat helped push aside a Haitian junta, he said.