Front Page Titles (by Subject) U.S. Interventionism & Human Rights - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
U.S. Interventionism & “Human Rights” - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
U.S. Interventionism & “Human Rights”
“U.S. Foreign Policy: The Revival of Interventionism.” Monthly Review 31(February 1980):15–27.
The “human rights” emphasis in President Carter's foreign policy has been a transitional policy aimed at overcoming domestic and foreign opposition to U.S. intervention. The loss of Vietnam and of the Indochina war demoralized public opinion and created distrust for the capabilities of America's foreign policymakers.
Carter's administration has projected a new set of “values” for the role of the U.S., the new means to the same ends of the Nixon/Ford administration: to develop an international network of loyal and supportive allies, to maintain a worldwide armed force with a capacity to defend economic interests, and the continued acquiesence of subordinate nations.
The Human Rights emphasis has been highly successful as a public relations policy: it has defused internal unrest by bringing the U.S. away from being a source of destruction. For example, the U.S. image has been transformed from being attacked for its crimes in Vietnam, to being the accuser of Vietnam for the cruel treatment of the “boat people.” She is now viewed as the virtuous humanitarian saving the fleeing refugees with welcome arms.
Thus the image of the United States as a moral leader has been rehabilitated. The renewed pursuit of “morality” has been put to service in reconstituting the U.S.’s interventionist capacity. Former critics in the Third World have been won over: similarly, improved relations with allies in Europe were strongly influenced by Carter's human rights emphasis.
As social upheavals continuously disturbed various countries, causing waves of unrest in neighboring states, the right wing's response has been a clamor for action. Carter has been hesitant to undermine the fragile internal consensus and has avoided any kind of largescale warfare. However, there has been a gradual shift toward selective involvement of U.S. interventionism and military aid. Specifically, since late 1978 human rights groups have been losing influence in Washington D.C. The military budget has increased, arm sales have increased, and new military aid programs have been implemented and increased in the Mid-East, in Central America, and in Southeast Asia.
The new aggressive posture of the U.S. towards Third World concerns have also served to distract attention from internal problems. In a recent presidential address President Carter blamed OPEC for America's unemployment, inflation, declining standards of living, and the energy crisis. Cleverly and subtly, Carter aroused a sense of U.S. nationalism by polarizing “us” vs. “them,” and gave new life to a growing hostility to the injustices visited upon “innocent” U.S. citizens. “Better to intervene against the greedy Arab oil millionaires than to wait in gas lines on Main Street.”
In short, U.S. foreign policy has gone a full circle from 1976, and the 80s promise to be a period of growing confrontation. As the Third World changes from being a passive “human rights” victim to being an active protagonist in social revolutions, the U.S. is shifting from being a critic of repression, to a promoter of economic and military intervention.