Top Obama aide rebukes China, Russia over rights
A top aide to President Barack Obama rebuked rivals China and Russia over human rights Wednesday but admitted "painful" tradeoffs were sometimes necessary to ensure US security.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice argued in a major speech that balancing human rights with other US national security priorities was complicated in a world of swirling geopolitics, multiple threats and authoritarian governments.
“We sometimes face painful dilemmas when the immediate need to defend our national security clashes with our fundamental commitment to democracy and human rights,” Rice told a conference organized by the Human Rights First group.
“Let’s be honest: at times, as a result, we do business with governments that do not respect the rights we hold most dear,” she said.
“We make tough choices. When rights are violated, we continue to advocate for their protection.”
“But we cannot, and I will not, pretend that some short-term tradeoffs don’t exist,” she added.
Rice, who said she especially cherished ideals of freedom and human rights as an African American, singled out China and Russia for particular criticism.
She said Washington detected rising restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly and association in China.
“This is short-sighted,” she said.
“When people in China cannot hold public officials to account for corruption, environmental abuses, worker and consumer safety or public health crises, problems that affect China as well as the world go unaddressed.”
Reflecting on the balancing act underpinning her remarks, Rice said Washington valued Chinese cooperation on key security issues from North Korea to Iran and a massive trade relationship.
Russia came in for criticism over what Rice called “systematic efforts” to curtail civil society, to stigmatize gays and lesbians and to “coerce” neighbors such as Ukraine who seek closer integration with Europe.
While saying Washington valued Moscow’s cooperation on many issues, Rice bemoaned corruption and cronyism that she said was dampening Russia’s potential.
She said Obama had personally and frequently raised human rights with leaders in Beijing and Moscow and elsewhere.
She also warned that even as Washington pushes for a nuclear deal with Iran, it would test Tehran’s willingness to ease up on domestic political repression.
Rice also deplored settler violence against Palestinians and incitement against Israelis on the West Bank and called for democratic reform in Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet is headquartered, and in Egypt.
‘We must defend the United States’
Rice argued that for reasons of history and its own values, the United States should always put human rights and democracy promotion at the center of its foreign policy.
She said Obama required his foreign policy lieutenants to stand up for the rights of women, lesbians and gays, ethnic minorities, and for freedom of worship, open government and free assembly and a free press.
But she also warned that a president’s ultimate duty lay in protecting the security of his country and its people, hinting that sometimes this led US leaders to partner with uncomfortable bedfellows.
“Advancing human rights is not, and has never been, our only interest,” Rice said.
“Every US president has a sworn duty to protect the lives and fortunes of the American people against immediate threats.”
“That is President Obama’s first responsibility, and mine,” she added.
“We must defend the United States, our citizens and our allies with every tool at our disposal, including, when necessary, with our military might.”
Some critics of the administration have accused Obama of soft-pedaling human rights to avoid prejudicing US relations with key powers such as China and Russia.
Obama has also been charged with turning a blind eye to the gross infringements on human rights in Syria’s civil war as he tries to ensure Washington is not embroiled in another Middle Eastern conflict.
Many human rights activists have also questioned the morality of the US drone war against terror suspects in lawless places including Pakistani border areas and Yemen — which critics say has killed scores of civilians caught in the crossfire.