Skip to main content

Even Jimmy Carter's most avid supporters agree that much of what he has achieved since being defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980 has outshone what he did while President.

On the other hand, in addition to laying out the usual criticisms about inept micro-management and the like, his most avid foes have always despised Jimmy Carter's calling human rights "the soul of our foreign policy." Both the "realists," a terrible name for the allegedly pragmatic U.S. Bismarckians, and the neo-conservative ideologues see human rights as an obstacle to wise foreign policy. It's just so messy. Not that they won't use "human rights" propagandistically for their own ends, decrying the behavior of whomever they seek to depose or make war upon or "liberate," but for them human rights gets in the way of getting done what they think needs to get done. Anybody who thinks differently is naive or unpatriotic.

Today in the Washington Post, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Nobel Peace prize-winning Carter has advised Barack Obama should reinject human rights into U.S. foreign policy. Excellent advice from this elder statesman. And just what many of us Americans and people throughout the world hope to see from the new administration.

With a new administration and a new vision coming to the White House, we have the opportunity to move boldly to restore the moral authority behind the worldwide human rights movement. But the first steps must be taken at home.

President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and end torture, which can be accomplished by executive orders to close the prison and by enforcing existing prohibitions against torture by any U.S. representative, including FBI and CIA agents. The detention of people secretly or indefinitely and without due process must cease, and their cases should be transferred to our courts, which have proved their competence in trying those accused of terrorism. Further, a nonpartisan expert commission should be named to conduct a thorough review of U.S. practices related to unwarranted arrest, torture, secret detention, extraordinary rendition, abandonment of habeas corpus and related matters. Acknowledging to the world that the United States also has made mistakes will give credence to our becoming "a more perfect union" -- a message that would resonate worldwide. Together, these actions will help us restore our nation's principles and embolden others abroad who want higher moral standards for their own societies.

By putting its house in order, the United States would reclaim its moral authority and wield not only the political capital but also the credibility needed to engage in frank but respectful bilateral dialogues on the protection of human rights as central to world peace and prosperity. Human rights defenders around the world, whose annual conference began at the Carter Center this week, are eagerly awaiting the Obama administration.

Carter is right that Obama has an unprecedented opportunity. But Obama should be careful to follow the advice, not the actions. Unfortunately, while Carter's record on human rights while he was in office was a vast improvement over his predecessors', it wasn't the unsullied bonanza some people have made it out to be.

While Carter cut off military aid to the brutal dictatorship of Guatemala, he kept the flow of arms going to El Salvador, where the government and government-backed death squads killed civilians on a large scale. He backed the Somoza regime in Nicaragua nearly to the end and pressured the Sandinistas to keep Somoza's murderous national guard intact. They said no. And when they did, contrary to popular myth, it wasn't Ronald Reagan's administration that initiated aid to the terrorist group that came to be known as the contras, but rather Carter's, which set up guardsmen in training camps in Honduras.

The Carter Administration was publicly committed to democracy in South Korea, had even threatened to remove its troops if the regime's human rights record didn't improve. But when pro-democracy protesters began an uprising in 1980, the two-faced Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Richard Holbrooke, gave military strongman Chun Doo Hwan the go-ahead to use force. South Korean soldiers technically under U.S. command subsequently slaughtered several hundred student protesters in Kwangju. Washington was at first silent after the killings, and then backed military strongmen who had ordered the attacks. Files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act years showed that a U.S. white paper on this massacre had falsely concluded that nobody in the administration was aware the military would be used against the students.

While speaking harshly of the Indonesian government's behavior in East Timor, which it had invaded in 1975, the Carter Administration provided additional military aid to the regime in Jakarta, which eventually killed 200,000 East Timorese.

Carter's service to his country, to the poor, and to the cause of human rights since departing the White House cannot be gainsaid. He has been rightly applauded for it.

But while Barack Obama and his team should take Carter's advice in using this "unprecedented opportunity" to place human rights front and center in a fresh U.S. foreign policy, they should exercise great care that their actions match their words.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Wed Dec 10, 2008 at 01:43 AM PST.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

paradox, Ed in Montana, vicki, northsylvania, Ray Radlein, Common Sense Mainer, Buckeye BattleCry, ogre, dalemac, teacherken, kate mckinnon, Geenius at Wrok, Joan McCarter, Rolfyboy6, pHunbalanced, TrueBlueMajority, Unstable Isotope, nicolemm, whataboutbob, maynard, mimi, BigOkie, mattman, TocqueDeville, RunawayRose, tnichlsn, dengre, MsSpentyouth, Lipstick Liberal, LuvSet, eeff, willyr, ZAPatty, caliberal, SallyCat, FyodorFish, object16, Norwegian Chef, mataliandy, perro amarillo, sardonyx, RubDMC, eyeswideopen, bronte17, conchita, annrose, understandinglife, srkp23, metal prophet, peace voter, Xapulin, Pithy Cherub, Scoopster, Patricia Taylor, mkfarkus, roses, Frederick Clarkson, Ignacio Magaloni, sgilman, LondonYank, juslikagrzly, Nate Roberts, thingamabob, edie haskell, navajo, CocoaLove, Eddie C, wader, lulusbackintown, Janet Strange, Oke, danthrax, TexDem, oldjohnbrown, grannyhelen, texasmom, GN1927, Oy the Billybumbler, Chirons apprentice, betson08, snakelass, lcrp, count, horatio in il, zett, side pocket, JayDean, SanDiegoDem, Hardhat Democrat, bablhous, rickeagle, Wojo, Big Tex, greenskeeper, Bluesee, marina, radarlady, 3goldens, liberal atheist, baccaruda, PBen, leftvet, kefauver, TigerMom, YucatanMan, trinityfly, Laurence Lewis, boofdah, Pam from Calif, Frank Palmer, jimstaro, thered1, GreyHawk, lotlizard, ivorybill, neroden, FindingMyVoice, LithiumCola, distraught, Cory Bantic, Rogneid, Spathiphyllum, Ekaterin, dancewater, Dania Audax, zozie, kathny, noweasels, maryru, begone, lgmcp, RiaD, martini, pico, esquimaux, Nightprowlkitty, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, Pinko Elephant, sherlyle, njr, BlueInARedState, Kimball Cross, HoundDog, rl en france, Yellow Canary, borkitekt, Samwoman, buhdydharma, Albatross, carolita, kck, Lefty Coaster, LokiMom, tecampbell, MJ via Chicago, Rachel in MO, nilocjin, Bob Sackamento, imabluemerkin, NearlyNormal, plf515, CTLiberal, el cid, nowheredesign, dirtfarmer, doinaheckuvanutjob, Clive all hat no horse Rodeo, va dare, toys, revgerry, Granny Doc, Temmoku, markthshark, NonnyO, BentLiberal, seabos84, AmericanRiverCanyon, One Pissed Off Liberal, ibonewits, donnamarie, Cronesense, Mom to Miss M, Tom J, dmh44, possum, bigjacbigjacbigjac, terryhallinan, edsbrooklyn, yowsta, david mizner, flumptytail, Jimdotz, ezdidit, Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle, joyful, drchelo, Strabo, Seneca Doane, vbdietz, mudslide, jnhobbs, Rumarhazzit, uciguy30, Got a Grip, JML9999, BasharH, Terra Mystica, TomP, cville townie, JDWolverton, MKinTN, rogerdaddy, Spruce, Shane Hensinger, condorcet, oolali, edison, juancito, ScottyUrb, jakebob, monkeybrainpolitics, kjboy27, tofumagoo, royce, evora, gildareed, mofembot, william f harrison, luckylizard, LaEscapee, DixieDishrag, priceman, dont think, Guadalupe59, caps lock on, Scubaval, rhutcheson, Fiddlegirl, maggiejean, SciMathGuy, Pris from LA, 1BQ, Mr Tentacle, The Field, An Affirming Flame, sunhaws, Shhs, CanyonWren, Partisan Progressive, eean, earicicle, Patch Adam, redtex, Texas Revolutionary, Framlingham, soms, sanglug, IngeniousGirl, synductive99, RadioGirl, elropsych, DaNang65, FundaMental Transformation, Wings Like Eagles, montecristo, Colorado Billy, Larsstephens, Its the Supreme Court Stupid, ppl can fly, brooklyns finest, oohdoiloveyou, confitesprit, Latex Solar Beef, rb137, winkster, Vacationland, Commoditize This, skeezixwolfnagle, robertacker13, Bliss, My mom is my hero, amk for obama, TheWesternSun, Big Danny, chrome327, Dexter, polar bear, Monkey Man Hermit, Timpanogus, calichristi, NY brit expat, sullivanst, catchlightning, Lady Libertine, sluggahjells, MsGrin, bottles, AMfromATL, nicholasclaxton, yellow dog in NJ, watershed, mieprowan, Kula2316, Geoff D, Philly526, Sport, wildlife advocate, sgwhiteinfla, FarWestGirl, itzik shpitzik, Maribeth, SERMCAP, thethinveil, grottoes

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site