It is no secret that when it comes to staffing, the most famous U.S.-based human rights organizations are skewed more toward Democrats than even universities. The most professional organizations try not to allow partisanship to corrupt analysis, but they are seldom successful. They loved to hate George W. Bush, never mind that many of the policies to which they most objected had their roots in the Clinton administration and have been continued by the Obama administration. When it comes to broader foreign policy, Bush did more to stand up to dictators and thugs than his predecessors. Reagan sought to appease Saddam Hussein, and Clinton repeatedly tried to cut a deal with the Taliban. When it came to unilateral sanctions, Clinton took a far tougher line on Iran than George W. Bush. And when it came to Africa, Bush did more than all his predecessors combined: Clinton’s Africa legacy was his ineffective response to the genocide in Rwanda and the civil war in Sudan.
The coming four years, however, should force real soul searching among the human rights community. President Obama’s reported pick of John Kerry to be secretary of state and the looming choice of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense will cement in his cabinet two figures that lack a moral compass in international affairs. If Kerry considered Bashar al-Assad “a dear friend” and a genuine reformer because they had a nice coffee and bike ride together, sympathizes with Latin America’s new populist dictators, and believes human rights should be shunted aside because Vladimir Putin is a sincere democrat, dictators will understand they have a free pass and democratic dissidents will realize they have no friend in the U.S. government.
Hagel’s gut instincts are even worse: He is not naïve like Kerry, but rather cold and callous when it comes to human rights. His instincts are to dismiss his opponents’ worst excesses as a domestic affair. Hagel embraces traditional appeasement, unaware that rather than satiate dictators, it only emboldens them. It won’t take long for dictators to understand that, with both Kerry and Hagel at the helm, they will have carte blanche to repress and murder their own people in a manner unseen for decades.
Democrats might like to say they stand for human rights and progressivism, but increasingly they do not understand that human rights are impossible to enjoy without basic human liberty. The question for the human rights community will be if they will hold water for such men and confirm the political corruption which infuses the professional human rights community.