Biden and Human Rights

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The author of another praiseworthy word to Biden masterly proves that he acted wisely by inviting the leaders of Russia and China to the climate summit, despite the fact that there are many claims against them in the field of human rights. He calls it finding the right balance and dismisses accusations of hypocrisy and cynicism. The author even finds excuses for the US love for Saudi Arabia with its low level of human rights rating: after all, the Saudis extract the most oil and gas, how can one discuss the climate without them? And the financial interests of the United States in Saudi Arabia have nothing to do with it, the author assures us.

During his long career in the American Senate, Joe Biden has earned a reputation as a politician who advocates for human rights as one of the goals of American foreign policy. Now that he has become president, Biden’s reputation in this area has been put to the test.

Foreign policy involves trade-offs, taking into account many issues, including security, economic interests, and other values. But when it comes to human rights, such compromises often lead to accusations of hypocrisy or cynicism.

Consider the 2018 assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Former President Donald Trump has been criticized for ignoring clear evidence of a brutal crime because he wanted to maintain good relations with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly referred to as MBS.

Liberals criticized Trump’s moderate reaction to Khashoggi’s assassination as shameless bargaining and ignorance of facts. And even an editorial from the conservative Wall Street Journal stated that “we don’t know of a single president, including even ruthless pragmatists like Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson, who would make such a public statement, without even a hint of basic values ​​and principles of America ”.

Trump considered the most important access to oil, contracts for the sale of military equipment and regional stability. He ignored the fact that maintaining values ​​and principles that are attractive to others is also an important national interest. Advocating for human rights tells the world who Americans are. It increases America’s soft power, as well as its ability to get what it wants through its attractiveness, rather than through coercion or cash payments.

The alignment of such different interests in foreign policy requires compromises, which generates criticism of the choices made in these compromises. During the 2020 election campaign, Biden criticized Trump for turning a blind eye to MBS’s role in the murder of Khashoggi. After becoming president, he instructed the director of national intelligence to remove the classification of secrecy and publish a report in which the blame for the murder was attributed to MBS. In addition, Biden banned 76 Saudi Arabians from entering the United States and restricted the use of American weapons in the Saudi war in Yemen.

However, liberal critics argue that Biden should have gone further and announced that America would have no business with MBS, which would force King Salman to appoint a new crown prince. Many experts on the Saudi kingdom believe that such a regime change is beyond America’s ability. Unlike Trump, Biden remembered American values, but questions arose about the correct balance he found.

Similar questions arise about Biden’s China policy. Biden criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping for “not having a single democratic bone in his body”; and during a meeting with Chinese counterparts in Anchorage, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan criticized China for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and repression of democracy and its defenders in Hong Kong. As for Russia, Biden agreed with the assertion that President Vladimir Putin is a “killer.”

But when it came time to invite world leaders to the American climate summit, Xi Jinping and Putin were on the invite list (although the invitation to the Saudis was sent to King Salman, not his son). What is it? Hypocrisy or realistic understanding that climate change is the biggest threat that cannot be dealt with without cooperation with the governments of these countries?

China ranks first in the world in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, and Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest hydrocarbon reserves. It is impossible to find a solution to our climate problem if these countries do not take part in its search together with everyone. We need to realize the importance of using force together with others, and not just over others, when dealing with environmental interdependence. This means we need to work with China on climate and pandemic issues, even when we criticize it for human rights violations.

How can we determine if our leaders have made the “best moral choice” in these circumstances? As I write in Is Morality Important? Presidents and Foreign Policy from Roosevelt to Trump “, first we need to make sure that we judge them within the framework of” three-dimensional ethics “, which takes into account intentions, means and consequences, and rely on three schools of foreign policy thought: realism, liberalism and cosmopolitanism ( and in that order).

The human rights issue should not be seen as opposing the principles and national interests of the United States, because these principles are part of American national interests. We must start with realism, but not stop there. To the extent possible, we should validate our principles so that our actions are most likely to bring about change. But at the same time, if we refuse to start with realism, then we will once again learn that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The goals that US presidents have set for themselves over the years were not determined by the desire to achieve at the international level the same justice that they wanted to see domestically. In the 1941 Atlantic Charter (one of the fundamental documents of the liberal international order), US President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared their dedication to freedom from want and fear. But Roosevelt did not try to implement his New Deal internationally. Even the famous liberal philosopher John Rawls believed that the provisions of his theory of justice were applicable only to Russian society.

At the same time, Rawls argued that liberal societies have responsibilities beyond their own boundaries, including providing mutual assistance and showing respect for institutions that guarantee fundamental human rights and enable people in a diverse world to be as independent as possible in their own affairs. That is why we must ask ourselves whether the goals set by the leader are based on some concept that expresses values ​​that are attractive domestically and abroad, but at the same time prudently balances these values ​​and assesses the risks so that there is a real prospect for the success of these values.

This means that when it comes to promoting values, we must judge a leader based not only on his or her character and intentions, but also on contextual intelligence. So far, Biden has handled this test.


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