On 15 November, the Democratic candidates debated each other in Las Vegas. One issue in particular caught my attention, and that was the question posed by Wolf Blitzer when he asked, “When they clash, what is more important, human rights or national security?” The framing of this question interests me – are these mutually exclusive goals in the 21st century? And who set the framework for this type of conjecture?
I think the answer to the latter is obvious as we have lived through a Presidency that would propose and carry out to limit the freedoms of its own citizens in order to provide – at least on the surface – a sense of security. From the suspension of habeas corpus to the illegal spying of American citizens to soft media control, BushCo’s answer to the terrorist question is to become like them in order to fight them.
Of course, the irrationality of our diminished freedoms at home stems from the fact that the great call of duty all neoconservatives assume upon their shoulders is the spread of democracy abroad. As Bill Maher, one of the patron saints of this blog, observed:
[George Bush] is gonna spread freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people if he has to kill every last one of them to do it.
So we have the neocon’s answer to the question. What about the Democratic candidates?
If you needed more proof that Republicans continue to the frame debate, you need only listen to Blitzer’s assertion that “occassionally they could clash”, but also to Clinton’s and Dodd’s answer.
Only Bill Richardson and Barack Obama maintained that the concepts are not mutually exclusive. More importantly, I would maintain that if you tend to the issues of human rights, not only on a moral basis, but on an economic, social and political basis, it will make the United States safer.
… security for the Americans at home and abroad is contingent on international stability, and there is perhaps no greater source of havoc than a group of well-armed extremists bent on wiping out a people on ethnic, national, or religious grounds.
… the sad record of the last century shows that the walls of the United States tries to build around genocidal socities almost inevitably shatter. States that murder and torment their own citizens target citizens elsewhere.
~ Excerpt, page 513
We need only look to the lessons of the past – the lessons of Hilter who persecuted his own people and then moved across Europe, Saddam Hussein who tried to wipe out the Kurds and then waged war on Kuwait, and Molosevic spread his war from Slovenia to Bosnia and Kosovo – to see that leaders who will squelch the rights of their own citizens don’t necessarily play well with others, much less respect our borders.
After all, the well-documented humanitarian crisis that existed under the Taliban reached our shores on September the 11th. And we can see regimes today, like the government of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, who not only mimic the Taliban in their cruelty, but also in their disrespect for the borders of their neighbors.
We cannot build a wall around America, but we can ensure that the grievences of citizens around the world are not played out upon our national stage. This does not mean policing the world, but it does mean that America needs to operate globally at a diplomatic intensity where the Geneva Convention is of utmost importance. We need a President who understands that if the people of the world have their basic human rights, there will be no need to threaten our security.