Are Human Rights Becoming a Tool of US “Smart Power”?
Big problems can develop when there are revolving doors and close collaborations between government officials, think tanks and NGOs representing human rights.
By Coleen Rowley August/September 2012 World Wide WAMM Black Angel painting by Brom> Science Fiction and Fantasy genres have spawned images of The New Woman equipped with lethal weapons, ready for battle. Is it any wonder when the development of electronic games is connected to military simulation, recruitment and training?
Some nonpartisan commentators finally recognize that current US foreign policy continues to escalate militarily as though on steroids. It has become evident that use of deadly force by a US-dominated NATO is not only outside the parameters of international and constitutional law, but also in some cases outside basic legal principles that have stood the test of time not only for decades, but for centuries. One explanation, however, for why American civil society, in general, has not pushed back is the “better rhetoric” now being used to sell war.
What is this better rhetoric and newly minted impetus for US-NATO’s same dumb (actually insane) war agenda, what used to be blurted out as “We must bomb the village to save it”? Constantly flitting through the revolving doors of their official appointments, foreign-policy think tanks and directorships of “human rights” organizations, proponents of “Smart Power” make their compelling case for more (endless) war in successfully urging us to “recast the fight against terror and nuclear proliferation… from a dark, draining struggle into a hopeful, progressive cause aimed at securing an international system of liberal societies and defeating challenges to it.”
David Swanson, author of War Is a Lie, speaking at the 10th annual Peacestock gathering, sponsored by Veterans for Peace in Hager City, Wisconsin, this summer, commented while dissecting the newest “progressive-led” war propaganda: “That wars must be marketed as humanitarian is a sign of progress. That we fall for it is a sign of embarrassing weakness. The war propagandist is the world’s second oldest profession, and the humanitarian lie is not entirely new. But it works in concert with other common war lies…(1) War Is A Lie> Book by David Swarnson (David Swanson Publisher, 2010). Challenges commonly held perceptions and refutes major arguments used to justify war. Can be used as a handbook in debunking future lies. Available at little more than cost. Paperback, Kindle, audio, online and in bulk. Accompanying youth study group on Facebook. Warisalie.org
Lies about war, in humanitarian disguise, were clearly evident in Chicago last March. Peace activist Ann Wright (a former Foreign Service State Department official and retired U.S. Army colonel); Ann Galloway, a member of Women Against Military Madness, and myself were among the thousands of antiwar activists who were in Chicago for the protest of NATO wars. There we noticed, in billboards and announcements, the new campaign of Amnesty International-USA: “Human Rights for Women and Girls in Afghanistan––NATO: Keep the Progress Going.”
Unwilling to let this go unchallenged, we packed into a taxi along with a few other antiwar activists, to head to the Chicago hotel where AI-USA’s “Shadow Summit” was being held—a conference billed as a feminist cause regarding the supposed improved status of women and children under US-NATO occupation. The summit featured former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and other US State Department officials and Council on Foreign Relations figures. We weren’t allowed to carry in our “NATO bombs are not humanitarian,” “NATO Kills Girls,” and anti-drone bombing posters that we had with us for the protest march later that day, but we did witness enough of the event to prompt Ann Wright and me to issue a warning about the exploitation of women’s rights as a cover for war: “Amnesty’s Shilling for US Wars.” (2)
The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) later issued a Statement on NATO Claim of “Progress” for Women and Girls in Afghanistan, as well as a Statement Condemning Amnesty International USA’s Campaigns in Support of U.S./NATO Wars. UNAC condemned Amnesty’s pro-war stance and propaganda efforts supporting continued occupation in Afghanistan and intervention in Syria, and asked for Amnesty to reaffirm its commitment to human rights, not war, and remove those responsible for their current pro-war policies and campaigns.
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Human rights seen as a “tool” of US “Smart Power:” Suzanne Nossel, the current executive director of Amnesty-USA, previously worked at different times as a State Department official for Richard Holbrooke and Hillary Clinton and is personally credited with having coined the term “Smart Power,” which Clinton announced as the defining feature of current US foreign policy. “Smart” indeed—certainly better-sounding—to project a contrast with the formerly unabashed Bush-Cheney reliance on “Hard Power.” “Smart power” employs “Soft Power:” diplomatic, economic, and cultural pressures, which can be combined with military force, to “work our will” upon foreign nations, as described by Nossel:
To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism, which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war…
Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership—diplomatic, economic, and not least, military [writer’s emphasis]—to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Even more relevant to the issue of human rights and peace and justice organizations being co-opted, however, Nossel also described Smart Power, in Foreign Affairs magazine, March/April 2004, as “knowing that the United States’ own hand is not always its best tool: U.S. interests are furthered by enlisting others on behalf of U.S. goals.” (3)
The question that emerges is, how could otherwise highly effective human rights organizations, respected for their good work largely because of their independence from powerful, self-interested governments, so easily fall into being used as tools of what Nossel once referred to as US “Superpowerdom”? When Amnesty-USA invited Madeleine Albright and other State Department officials to speak at its NATO women’s forum, it was not the first time it had reached out to the architect of harsh economic sanctions—and the deaths of a half million Iraqi children. Shortly after becoming executive director of AI-USA in January 2012, Suzanne Nossel moderated a panel at Wellesley College, during which she goaded fellow panelist Madeleine Albright as follows:
Now as the head of Amnesty International-USA, one point of great frustration and consternation for human rights organizations and civil society organizations over the last eight or nine months has been the failure of the UN Security Council to address, in any way, the deaths of now five thousand civilians in Syria at the hands of President Assad and his military. Last spring the Security Council managed to forge a majority for forceful action in Libya and it was initially very controversial, [causing] many misgivings among key Security Council members. But Gaddafi fell, there’s been a transition there and I think one would have thought those misgivings would have died down. And yet we’ve seen just a continued impasse over Syria and a real, almost return to cold war days and paralysis in the Security Council. How do you explain that and what do you think is the missing ingredient to break that logjam and get the Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria? (4)
Even the savvy Madeleine Albright seemed genuinely taken aback by the Amnesty director’s push for a US-NATO Libya-like intervention in Syria. Albright and the other speaker responded skeptically as to what could be achieved through bombing or military force. What shouldn’t have been surprising, however, was Nossel’s minimalizing the thousands of NATO bombing sorties on Libya by calling them a “forceful action,” and her urging a potential UN Security Council authorization to do the same to Syria, referring to this as “living up to its responsibilities.”
She was already on record, in her prior think tank capacity, lamenting that failure in Iraq might mean Americans would lose their “willingness to use military force [writer’s emphasis]—Iraq as a failed state is likely to herald an era of deep reservations among the U.S. public regarding the use of force—a kind of post-Vietnam, post-Mogadishu hangover.” (5)
Photo: Greg Skog
Women Who Don’t Dwell in Fiction or Fantasy. Activists in peace and “War is a Lie” T-shirts. Chelsea Skog, Sue Skog, with Coleen Rowley, who wrote this article.