Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, July 13, 2007

Delahunt calls for U.S. to use leverage in foreign policy to advance human rights

“How do we restore our image? By making our actions more in line with our rhetoric, or vice versa,” Chairman Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) said during a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing Thursday. “Honesty, if you will.”

The hearing, entitled “Ideals vs. Reality in Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy: The cases of Azerbaijan, Cuba and Egypt,” considered the inconsistencies of U.S. foreign policy and how the U.S. can pursue short-term security interests and long-term human rights interests simultaneously.

“I am not naïve; I know the choice is not always black and white, is not always between good and evil,” said Delahunt, chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight. “The issue is: how does the rest of the world look at us. It’s not a popularity contest; it’s about our own security. We’re growing terrorists all around the world not because of our values, but because of our policies.”

The subcommittee addressed the human rights situations and U.S. foreign policies in Azerbaijan, Cuba and Egypt because all three countries have authoritarian governments and are severely lacking in human rights, but U.S. policies – including relations with leaders and aid distributed – in those three countries are radically different.

The U.S. has an economic embargo on Cuba, but gives Egypt $2 billion in aid. On July 11 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that America stands for Cuba’s right to free and fair elections, not the transfer of power from one dictator to another… but that’s exactly what the U.S. allowed in Azerbaijan, and what is being allowed with Gamal Mubarak – the son of current president Hosni Mubarak – in Egypt, Delahunt said.

“We have done so much good but we’re so ambivalent, we have such different policies for different countries… It makes no sense that Egypt sits by, twiddles its thumbs [and does not exert its influence in Sudan] and we do nothing when we have a resolution about stopping genocide,” Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.) said. “People around the world must look at us and say what in the world is going on in this country – I’m a policymaker and I don’t understand our policy. It’s dangerous, I think, for us and our future.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said that he thinks truth, rather than consistency, should be the number one goal, and that policies pursued in different countries with similar human rights atrocities are not inconsistent.

“Cuba has a 50-year record of hatred toward the U.S…. it should be treated differently. But Egypt is playing a positive role [in the Middle East] that we should never, ever ignore. We should be grateful for that and only nudge them [towards human rights goals] as friends,” Rohrabacher said.

“The U.S. has to make certain decisions that lead to a positive outcome” in pursuit of our most important foreign policy goals, and “today’s goal is to win the war against radical Islam,” Rohrabacher said.

“Egypt has been of assistance in promoting peace with Israel,” Delahunt said. “I understand we have to deal with unsavory politicians sometimes, but when we take it too far…” he said, displaying pictures of President Bush smiling with leaders such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

“No lunch and no photo ops,” agreed Morton H. Halperin, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who testified at the hearing. Halperin and Delahunt agreed that such friendly interactions and little perceptible pressure on human rights or democracy issues sends the wrong message and appears inconsistent with America’s non-nuanced rhetoric.

“Ninety three percent of Egyptians disapprove of the U.S. – if we can’t see beyond our nose and see where that’s heading… if that society should erupt, who will we be identified with? The Mubarak government. If Mubarak is replaced or overthrown, it would be a threat to the U.S. – to our commercial and security interests,” Delahunt said.

“We should never allow human rights to fall off the table,” said Ms. Jennifer L. Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, who also testified at the hearing. “It might be difficult to apply consistently, but we should never abandon it.”

Between 2003 and 2005, this administration “challenged the Mubarak regime to move towards greater openness and democracy,” Windsor said. “The Administration’s position has since reversed course, leaving Egyptian reformers disappointed and disillusioned and leaving the only serious political opponent to Mubarak in prison and in rapidly declining health… U.S. policy did make a difference when we took advantage of the leverage we had in Egypt, and we need to seize that opportunity now.”

“Human rights ought to be the centerpiece of our policy,” said Delahunt. “If we want to improve human rights, we don’t have any leverage with Cuba, but we do with Hosni Mubarak.”

For the witnesses’ full testimonies, click here.


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