The United States is at its best when it puts American values and human rights at the forefront of its foreign and national security policy. The cooperative pursuit of global peace, prosperity, sustainability, and human security not only reflects our values, but also is the surest way to advance American interests in an interconnected world. Therefore, we are deeply troubled and concerned about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement to State Department employees this week that promoting human rights abroad “creates obstacles” in our efforts to advance American interests.
This backwards approach is not only morally bankrupt, but dangerous. Human rights are universal, and promoting them is very much in the American interest, whether we’re seeking to limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia, or working to provide refuge to Syrians fleeing a brutal civil war.
Declaring that the United States will put human rights promotion on the back burner when conducting foreign policy not only eliminates a key tool of leverage, it also signals to human rights abusers around the world that they can carry on jailing, torturing, displacing, and murdering without consequence, which ultimately makes the United States and world less safe.
So far, in the short one hundred days since taking office, President Trump has sought to ban refugees coming to this country, slash foreign aid, eliminate nearly half of the State Department, and cut funding to the United Nations. Secretary Tillerson’s comments this week are just another example in this disturbing trend of the Trump administration’s troubling indifference to the fate and wellbeing of people both at home and abroad.