The Corner

Politics & Policy

Human Rights and the State Department

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is starting a new commission on human rights. I have my doubts about how much the commission can accomplish, but the criticisms of it from the Left are misplaced. My latest column examines the controversy.

There are two principal complaints, as related in the New York Times and The New Republic. The Trump administration is inconsistent on human rights, giving a pass to allies such as Saudi Arabia while coming down hard on adversaries such as Iran. And the commission will try to push a narrow theocratic conception of human rights, one that scants gay rights and the right to abortion.

The first complaint is correct, but not distinctive to President Trump. No administration is or can be entirely consistent on human rights. . . . The U.S. has a lot of interests and they cannot always be simultaneously pursued. The Barack Obama administration was softer than Trump on Iran and harder on Saudi Arabia, in keeping with its own larger foreign-policy aims. (Homosexual acts are punishable by death in both countries.) If the choice before our government were to advance human rights at all times and places or not to advance them at all, then the latter course would prevail.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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