Bush and Human Rights
September 30, 2001
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The lead article in the Week in Review section of today's New York Times reports, "And the Sept. 11 attack opened opportunities for Mr. Bush, too. He and his advisers have long derided nation-building and the advancement of human rights abroad. Under President Clinton, those goals hurt relations with Russia, China and other less than democratic countries whose support the Bush administration now wants."
Leave aside "nation-building." The claim that Mr. Bush and his advisers have long derided "the advancement of human rights abroad" is unsubstantiated.
Here is Mr. Bush in the key foreign policy speech of his presidential campaign, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on November 19, 1999: "Our realism must make a place for the human spirit. This spirit, in our time, has caused dictators to fear and empires to fall. And it has left an honor roll of courage and idealism: Scharansky, Havel, Walesa, Mandela. The most powerful force in the world is not a weapon or a nation but a truth: that we are spiritual beings, and that freedom is 'the soul's right to breathe.' In the dark days of 1941 -- the low point of our modern epic -- there were about a dozen democracies left on the planet. Entering a new century, there are nearly 120. There is a direction in events, a current in our times. 'Depend on it,' said Edmund Burke. 'The lovers of freedom will be free.'"
Mr. Bush continued: ". . .the basic principles of human freedom and dignity are universal. People should be able to say what they think. Worship as they wish. Elect those who govern them. These ideals have proven their power on every continent. In former colonies -- and the nations that ruled them. Among the allies of World War II -- and the countries they vanquished. And these ideals are equally valid north of the 38th parallel. They are just as true in the Pearl River Delta. They remain true 90 miles from our shores, on an island prison, ruled by a revolutionary relic. . . ."
In that same speech, Mr. Bush said, "If I am president, China will know that America's values are always part of America's agenda. Our advocacy of human freedom is not a formality of diplomacy, it is a fundamental commitment of our country."
And in that same speech, Mr. Bush also said, "Even as we support Russian reform, we cannot excuse Russian brutality. When the Russian government attacks civilians -- killing women and children, leaving orphans and refugees -- it can no longer expect aid from international lending institutions. The Russian government will discover that it cannot build a stable and unified nation on the ruins of human rights. That it cannot learn the lessons of democracy from the textbook of tyranny."
Mr. Bush hasn't "derided" the advancement of human rights; he has urged it. As for his advisers, the Times doesn't name any who have derided the advancement of human rights. But certainly John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz, in the spectrum of foreign policy thinking from those who deride the advancement of human rights to those who are forceful advocates for the spread of freedom, stand decidedly among the vanguard of those who support the spread of freedom.
As for the Times's claim that President Clinton sacrificed relations with Russia and China in favor of an emphasis on human rights, that is just laughable. Under Mr. Clinton relations between America and mainland China were probably the warmest they have ever been since the Communists took power there, even as the human rights situation worsened. Mr. Clinton's party took campaign contributions from the Chinese Communists and the Clinton administration transferred sensitive dual-use technology to China. Mr. Clinton broke the linkage between human rights and trade with China, to the dismay of the AFL-CIO. In the case of Russia, the Clinton administration funneled billions of dollars in World Bank and International Monetary Fund aid to Russia despite the Kremlin's crackdown on freedom of the press and despite Russia's brutal war in Chechnya.
Smartertimes.com generally hesitates to speculate about motivations for the Times's lapses of accuracy, but this is one of those cases when what the newspaper writes is just so far removed from reality that a reader really has to strain to see it as anything other than partisan Bush-bashing and Clinton-cheering.
Blaming Religion: The lead article in the Arts & Leisure section of today's New York Times, by the newspaper's architecture critic, appears to blame religious authority for the September 11 terrorist attacks. "As we have now tragically learned, the erosion of religious authority is not universal," the critic writes. Perhaps he is hoping for the universal erosion of religious authority? That tragically didn't help much for the victims of Communism and Nazism. The Times critic contrasts the eroded traditional religious authority with what prevails in America. "Our religion is progress -- material, intellectual, spiritual. This faith is compatible with the search for the good, and perhaps a prerequisite for it," the critic says.
Well, far be it from Smartertimes.com to stand against "progress," but the Nazis and the Communists acted in the name of material and intellectual progress, too, and they were stopped in part by those for whom traditional religious authority had not eroded.
It is true that evil acts are sometimes committed in the name of traditional religious authority, and that intellectual and material progress is often good. But the Times critic understates the positive aspects of religious authority in America and elsewhere, and he overstates the positive aspects of the search for "progress."
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