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May 09, 2017

McCain: We Must Support Human Rights

Yesterday, in The New York Times, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) penned an eloquent and moving essay on the power of a U.S. foreign policy firmly grounded in human rights to inspire and give hope to the oppressed, and what the United States stands to lose by abandoning its historic leadership on promoting freedom and universal values. Ultimately, McCain argues, the United States is both the chief architect and chief beneficiary of an international system built on respect for human rights, a system that has resulted in individual freedom and prosperity unprecedented in human history. McCain makes a forceful, personal case that the United States—despite what President Trump may tweet—is at root a country driven by a cause greater than short-term deal-making, and that maintaining our strong moral compass is the key to our continued leadership on the world stage.McCain offered his piece in response to a recent address by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to State Department employees, in which Tillerson expressed his view that a values-centered foreign policy limits America’s ability to advance its interests. Tillerson’s sentiment, and the related ideology underpinning Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, McCain argues, isn’t unique in American history, but is based on the misconception that so-called “realism” dictates that America balance its support for universal values against its parochial interests.

As McCain writes:

“Human rights exist above the state and beyond history. They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another. They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be extinguished.

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. It could cost our reputation in history as the nation distinct from all others in our achievements, our identity and our enduring influence on mankind. Our values are central to all three.”

This is not a sentiment that McCain holds in isolation. Last week a bipartisan group of 15 senators wrote to President Trump calling on him to prioritize democracy and human rights in his foreign policy.

We at Human Rights First could not agree more strongly with McCain’s sentiments. More importantly, neither could the thousands of brave and committed human rights advocates with whom we work in countries around the world. 

Read the full essay in The New York Times.