How else to explain the Biden administration’s penchant for lecturing other countries on human rights when America’s own record is outrageous
In the realm of international relations and politics between nations, there is always the easy temptation to deliberately forget history and indulge in commentary that ends up hurting one side or the other. In the category of shooting themselves in the foot, many nations would be in contention for the top spot and the United States is one of them. It is not as if the senior officials of the various agencies are oblivious to the realities, but in several cases they are forced by the ruling party to carry their ideological baggage.
How else to explain the Biden administration and the Democrats’ penchant for lecturing and harassing other countries on so-called human rights when America’s own record is either outrageous or far from it. perfect, whether at the national level or in its relations with the rest of the world? In what was seen as a rare and recent rebuke from India, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was looking into “human rights abuses” in India by some officials. “…we are monitoring some recent developments regarding India, including an increase in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials,” he said.
With much pompous fanfare, the US State Department releases its annual Human Rights Report that talks about every other country in the world, an assessment that is looked down upon in many parts of the world. Responding to Blinken’s comment, India’s External Affairs Minister, Jaishankar, said: “…people are entitled to have opinions about us. But we also have the right to have opinions about their views and interests, as well as the lobbies and vote banks that motivate them. So, whenever there is a discussion, I can tell you that we will not hesitate to speak.
The senior Indian official and the Indian government also know that Foggy Bottom is not alone in this business. The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which also has its annual show lambasting countries for the religious persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, will be in close competition for the top “honours.” And pressure has been put on administrations to place India long along with Russia, Syria and Vietnam in the category of “countries of particular concern”, a move that could lead to sanctions. “Religious freedom conditions in India are deteriorating, with national and various state governments tolerating widespread harassment and violence against religious minorities,” the Commission said in one of its latest reports.
This is not the first time that New Delhi has been lectured on human rights by an administration; in fact, in the 1990s, India faced an onslaught from the US House of Representatives through the Burton Amendment which threatened to withhold some 30% of development aid. This annual “circus” by Indiana Republican lawmaker Dan Burton has blasted India over human rights abuses in Kashmir, Punjab and just about anywhere interested lobbies could lay their finger on it. The Burton Amendment was on such a high level on Capitol Hill that it seemed the effectiveness of the Indian Embassy in Washington depended on the amendment’s margin of defeat!! Eventually, Congressman Burton was forced to drop his initiative in 1999 when he found that only two of his colleagues would speak. In fact, a perception circulating at the time was that India had spread the word to Burton and the State Department that New Delhi was not interested in this financial aid!
But what disturbs the playing field in 2022 is undoubtedly Washington’s private disdain for India’s stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, frustration that New Delhi chose to abstain during about 10 votes in the United Nations and its functional agencies instead of ostensibly taking an anti-Russian stance. For the record, the White House and State Department “understand” where India is coming from, but the private nudge is still there, both official and from those close to the Biden administration. And the seduction has always been on two fronts: American weapons and the Chinese threat. India, argued former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would want the world to be outraged and be with her if China sent “one of its huge armies into India”; and the twist of arms being that since Russia is under massive sanctions, including on the technology front, New Delhi should invariably look elsewhere.
The problem for the United States, which its administrations should privately admit, is that there has been no consistency with the allies – including the so-called ones – who have been given a pass. Opponents including tin dictatorships unaligned with Washington given the sanctions treatment and uncomfortable democracies given the sartorial and faculty conferences. For the United States to talk about human rights, it need only look back to its infamous allies like the Shah of Iran and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines; torture, waterboarding and treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, black sites in some European countries and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Of course, all in the name of the “war on terror”.
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Even when it comes to Ukraine, the double standards are obvious: Washington wants the whole world to stop buying Russian oil and gas, with the exception of course of European and American customers; the “red dot” sale of Russian oil is underway and everyone can buy, except of course the Indians. The United States is obsessed with importing about 0.2% of the total oil that India imports from Russia, which is really laughable. And in all the raving about being ready to supply US weapons, few defense actors are willing to talk about how long it takes to operationalize and integrate the weaponry; and the vagaries of a system where lawmakers can block things. So what happens when the Chinese invade India and a demand for spare parts is stuck in the halls of power?
For years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, journalists in the United States used to irritate and taunt President George Bush about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden – why does that take so long… is he alive or dead? Bush had a standard response: “If he’s alive, we’ll get him; if he’s dead, we’ve got him”. Likewise, when asked about India’s credentials as a democracy, Indian officials should neither be flustered nor compelled to be defensive, but simply say – ask Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “I don’t think it’s one country’s job to preach to another… No one can say that India is not a democracy. It’s an amazing place,” the British leader said during his recent visit to the country.
(The author was a former senior reporter in Washington covering North America and the United Nations)