February 5, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 30°F


Commentary: US foreign policy too often clashes with human rights

As news director for WICB and host of ICTV’s political talk show “Experts Say,” I consider it part of my education to keep up with world news. I am a supporter of the Occupy movement, but also quick to mention that it was the revolutions in the Middle East that stirred the Wall Street protests. It was inspiring to watch hundreds of thousands of Egyptians risk their lives to call for the ousting of then-President Hosni Mubarak. I also recall how the Obama administration was hesitant to express its support for the revolution.

Pete Blanchard

Though the administration does support the Egyptian revolution, this support comes packaged with hypocrisy. For the three decades that Mubarak was in power, the U.S. provided financial and military support to the regime. In fact, President Barack Obama’s administration is still supplying Egyptian security forces with weapons, riot gear and tear gas canisters, which they are now using to suppress Egyptian protestors. If the administration truly supported the revolution, it would cease to give weapons to the military. However, it is in U.S. interest to help the military maintain control. It is a sad truth that behind Obama’s vocal support for the Arab Spring is a decades-old foreign policy that publicly opposes autocratic regimes while covertly supporting them.

The truth comes with consequences. An April 2011 Pew public opinion poll found that only 20 percent of Egyptians held a favorable opinion of the U.S. According to the poll, Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan also hold negative attitudes toward the U.S. With an approval rating so low, the U.S. actually has a vested interest in keeping dictatorships in power and suppressing popular opinion.

Guantanamo Bay is the most glaring example of how U.S. foreign policy gets in the way of human rights. You may remember the story of three U.S. hikers who were taken hostage by Iran. Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were hiking along the border between Iraq and Iran when they were detained by Iranian authorities and subsequently accused of espionage. When the hikers were finally released, they told the press that every time they complained to the guards about their conditions the guards would remind them of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay. This revealing fact was not repeated in the mainstream media and yet it must be a focal point in foreign policy discourse if human rights truly matter to the American people. As long as U.S. hypocrisy remains intact, world opinion of the U.S. will remain unfavorable.

The overthrowing of Muammar Gaddafi was seen as a victory for human rights, but reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations show otherwise. In recent months, hundreds of Libyan and foreign detainees have been beaten and tortured at detention centers. This goes virtually unnoticed by Americans given that the mainstream media prefers to report on military invasions rather than the crucial aftermath of the conflict.

U.S. foreign policy continues to fuel anti-American sentiment while simultaneously misrepresenting Americans as supporters of its policies. The reality is that a majority of Americans support the Arab Spring movement — Ithacans are no exception. In an era with vibrant social media facilitating global discussion, there are no more excuses for arrogance.

The campus community can do more than simply say they support the Arab Spring — they can translate that support into a simple signature. Amnesty International has a host of petitions on its website, including one calling for a halt on the weapons trade to Egypt.

Pete Blanchard is a senior journalism major. Email him at pblanch1@ithaca.edu