Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Clinton bungles it

I've gotta say... Clinton did fine in terms of setting up the right relationships in China, with the government and with ordinary people, but I don't get why she had to talk about human rights the way she did.

If she wanted to focus on global warming and treasury bonds, she should have done just that and not even mentioned rights. Instead, Clinton went out of her way to frame rights as a sort of dead-end and distraction, so that the next time they have to come up---such as in the event of more brutality in Tibet---they will be dismissed as the sort of chatter that only occurs when there's nothing else more important to talk about or as a formality demanded by narrow-sighted interest groups at home.

Instead, Clinton could have pushed rights out of the on-again, off-again US-China "human rights dialogue" (scrap the dialogue if need be) and made them a normal part of other discussions. Environmental discussions, for example, could include the rights of the poor to safe water or of environmental campaigners to freedom from intimidation. Economic discussions could include the plight of workers.

Of course, such an expanded conversation would inevitably touch on America's misdeeds. Which would be perfect. We need someone to say that closing Guantanmo is good but closing the Bagram air base would be better. One of the best things about the human rights reports that the U.S. produces about China is that they often draw a Chinese response criticizing the U.S. It's a healthy exchange. Now it needs to be expanded, not shunted off to the corner.


Anonymous said...

I hope that is slip of the tongue rather than a calculated soundbite. ~SW

Old Tales Retold said...

If you mean Clinton's comments on human rights, I think they were calculated.

Rights are, indeed, mushy, inasmuch as the idea that people are born with certain rights no matter what rests on a sort of religious humanism---rights are really, as the Communists used to say, created and redefined continually by politics.

But if you take rights out of discourse, you don't clarify things. Instead, you cut out a huge swath of human experience. In effect, you say that cruelty unrelated to outright war doesn't matter.