Expediency of the Angels

Wary of overpromising, the U.S. public has begun to shy away from promoting our values abroad. What's needed is not to abandon idealistic goals, but to pursue them in more pragmatic ways.

Issue: Mar-Apr 2009

THE OBAMA administration will face human-rights issues at every turn in confronting terrorism, insurgency and ethnic cleansing along the arc of crisis from South Asia to Sudan. To tackle these strategic challenges as well as chronic rights abuses, the new administration and nongovernmental advocacy groups need a new, more pragmatic approach.

In the past, the strategies of neoconservatives and liberal activists have been long on the rhetoric of freedom and rights, but have fallen short on results. Wary of overpromising, the U.S. public has become skeptical about promoting American ideals abroad. Yet the real lesson of these setbacks should not be to abandon idealistic goals, but to pursue them in more pragmatic ways. Without developing a more effective human-rights policy, the United States will neither recover its tarnished reputation nor accomplish its strategic goals.

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