GOP Arizona Sen. John McCain blasted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for not aggressively pushing human rights on other countries as a precondition for developing a diplomatic relationship.
McCain argued Monday in an op-ed for the The New York Times that Tillerson’s “America First” approach to foreign policy, which was presented to Department of State employees last week and emphasizes national interests over obsessive focus on human rights, is a flawed approach.
“In the real world, as lived and experienced by real people, the demand for human rights and dignity, the longing for liberty and justice and opportunity, the hatred of oppression and corruption and cruelty is reality,” McCain wrote. “By denying this experience, we deny the aspirations of billions of people, and invite their enduring resentment. America didn’t invent human rights. Those rights are common to all people: nations, cultures and religions cannot choose to simply opt out of them.”
Tillerson stated last Wednesday that when it comes to national security, values may sometimes take the back seat to policies.
“In some circumstances, if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can’t achieve our national security goals,” Tillerson said. “It really does create obstacles.”
Yet, for Tillerson, this approach doesn’t entail leaving human rights on the cutting room floor.
But that clarification has not seemed to reassure McCain, who said Monday the international order created by the United States and based on universal values has resulted in more freedom and prosperity than ever before in history, which means a turn to a more transactional approach to foreign policy could end in disaster.
“To view foreign policy as simply transactional is more dangerous than its proponents realize. Depriving the oppressed of a beacon of hope could lose us the world we have built and thrived in,” McCain said.
Abandoning human rights values would also, McCain added, end America’s claim to being an exceptional country.
The Trump administration has already begun shifting away from a foreign policy approach that places too much emphasis on human rights. As emblematic of this switch, Tillerson recently decided to lift human rights conditions on Bahrain, allowing the sale of F-16 fighter jets to the country, and President Donald Trump has made overtures to leaders like Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who don’t abide by the American-driven international order.
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