Hillary Clinton Speaks on Human Rights

There isn’t necessarily a tension between idealism and pragmatism in foreign affairs, the secretary argues.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington DC, December 2
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington DC, December 2 (DoD/Chad J. McNeeley)

Elaborating on the statement President Obama made when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize last week — “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting” — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at Georgetown University in Washington DC about human rights today.

“We cannot separate our democracy, human rights and development agendas,” she argued. “They are mutually reinforcing and united in service of a common purpose: to create a world where all people have the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential.”

She more or less repeated what Obama said in Norway: that his administration rejects a tension must exist between idealistic and pragmatic foreign policy.

It is the foreign policy of this country and this administration to support and defend democracy. We embrace democracy not because we want other countries to be like us, but because we want all people to have the opportunity to decide for themselves how to live their lives.

Again, reiterating the president’s words that imposing American values is also pursuing American interests; something of a provocative stance, considering how the last President Bush’s crusade for democracy was received.

As a cornerstone of foreign policy, it is perhaps not viable. But Clinton knows that America cannot reform all of the world in its image. This administration will not be able to bring freedom everywhere any more than the last one.

But promoting democracy and supporting calls for reform in countries that suffer oppression and even totalitarianism can hardly be against America’s interests in the long run. It is difficult to imagine how more democracy in countries like China and Iran would hurt the United States. Rather it is likely to strengthen relations in the end for, as the president said, “America has never fought a war against a democracy.”


  1. “America has never fought a war against a democracy” is a slight para-phrase of the better established IR addage ‘Democracies don’t go to war with each other’. However, in the US’s case they DO have their intelligence agencies back military juntas to defeat and overthrow elected governments, as the track record in South America shows. I’m the last person to complain about that as such, but the facts should probably be recognised.
    Venuzuela, for example. As much as Chavez is detestible, he was elected by his people and was criticised by some Washington Wallah of the previous administration as ‘ not having America’s interests’ at heart’ which was an obviously hilarious statement.
    However, if this is to be the foundation for Obama’s foreign policy intentions then the power to him and Mrs Clinton, but does it really mean anything that new?

  2. Not really no. As I mentioned in my article on Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, it’s pretty much the Bush Doctrine (promoting democracy overseas and all that) with a president that speeches better. The only difference seems to be that the Obama Administration intends to also stress human rights, though I’m skeptical as to how they will implement that with regards to China, Iran, North-Korea, etc.

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