Human rights supporters and advocates, a not insignificant chunk of the population that elected Barack Obama, have had some discomfort over the delays in getting Guantanamo closed and over the cozy relationships maintained with other governments who aren’t doing a stellar job in this area. That ‘other governments’ is meant to be an inclusive phrase, since the U.S., for its own part in protecting human rights, still lets uncounted millions die without proper health care.
The particular choice of words by Secretary of State Clinton, reported by Brian Knowlton in the New York Times, is a new cause for discomfort.
Rejecting bipartisan criticism, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday detailed an administration human-rights approach that she called ‘pragmatic and agile,’ meant to emphasize not just democracy but also development and to raise sensitive issues with countries like Russia and China behind closed doors.
Pragmatism is good, and probably a universal necessity. But ‘agility’? Somehow, the image of our government staying agile in its human-rights approach doesn’t inspire confidence. Rather, it conjures up images of crouching tigers and hidden dragons and all those other now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t fantasies put into play in the movie everyone seemed to think extraordinary but some of us found bizarre.
‘Sometimes we will have the most impact by publicly denouncing a government action, like the coup in Honduras or the violence in Guinea,’ she said in a speech at Georgetown University.
‘Other times we will be more likely to help the oppressed by engaging in tough negotiations behind closed doors, like pressing China and Russia as part of our broader agenda,’ she said. ‘In every instance, our aim will be to make a difference, not to prove a point.’
Her speech defended an administration approach that has been criticized by some rights advocates and by certain lawmakers as too gentle or undemanding.
The administration has pointed to what it said were the early results of its less-confrontational approach: signs of new Chinese cooperation on climate change and on pressing Iran over its nuclear program.
Further signs, especially for those of us who remain believers, will be eagerly welcomed.