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Pompeo’s Selective ‘Rights Talk’

Mike Pompeo wants you to think that he and the Trump administration are deeply concerned about human rights:

Human-rights advocacy has lost its bearings and become more of an industry than a moral compass. And “rights talk” has become a constant element of our domestic political discourse, without any serious effort to distinguish what rights mean and where they come from.

Pompeo is using his op-ed to announce the creation of an advisory panel called the “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” but virtually no one in the government has less moral authority to hold forth about universal human rights than the Secretary of State. He affirms that “[u]nalienable rights are by nature universal,” but there have been few high-ranking U.S. officials as selective and cynical in their use of “rights talk” as Pompeo.

There is always a certain amount of hypocrisy in foreign policy for any government, but this administration has distinguished itself with its complete indifference to the crimes and abuses of U.S. clients. It has also plumbed new depths in abuses of refugees and asylum seekers by our own government in violation of our treaty commitments. The Saudis blow up school buses, homes, and hospitals and the Emiratis run torture prisons in Yemen, and the Israelis commit hundreds of atrocities against unarmed protesters, and every time the Trump administration either rushes to their defense or ignores what they have done. The administration saves its condemnation of abuses for only a relative few governments that it already opposes for other reasons. Pompeo truly has no self-awareness when he writes this:

The human-rights cause once united people from disparate nations and cultures in the effort to secure fundamental freedoms and fight evils like Nazism, communism and apartheid. We have lost that focus today. Rights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups.

Pompeo complains that “we” have lost “focus” on what it means to secure fundamental freedoms when he is part of an administration that supports illegal occupation and enables thousands of war crimes against civilians. He objects to dividing humanity into subgroups while presiding over a cruel and unconscionable travel ban and serving in an administration that operates wretched detention camps for asylum seekers. Pompeo is not in a position to lecture anyone else about misunderstanding human rights, and he makes a mockery of the language of the Declaration by adopting it for his own initiative.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.