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  • The Future of Human Rights: U.S. Policy for a New Era
  • David P. Forsythe (bio)
The Future of Human Rights: U.S. Policy for a New Era. (William F.Schulz ed., 2008), 288 pp.

William F. Schulz, former Executive Director of Amnesty International-USA and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, has edited a substantive book on human rights and US foreign policy. Like Schulz, many but not all of the authors of the fourteen chapters have worked for human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, US Committee for Refugees, Human Rights First, and Freedom House. Thus, many of the chapters read [End Page 810] like NGO reports, full of facts and figures and with careful attention to detail. This characteristic is also found in the chapters written by former governmental officials who also eschew academic theory and general propositions in favor of policy-oriented specifics. The book as a whole is essentially a policy paper on human rights for the next presidential transition team, laying out detailed recommendations for how to improve US attention to and support for internationally recognized human rights. For readers who are not policy experts in Washington, there is much substantive material that will be of benefit to graduate students, researchers, and other experts, but this is not a book that can be assigned with a prospect of great success to undergraduate students in classes at typical colleges and universities.

In his introduction, Schulz frames the book with neo-conservatism as a dead end and what is needed in its place. Thus, as one would expect given his background, he does not set up the book in terms of the theories of liberalism v. realism, with constructivism thrown in. Nor does he raise the question of the different theories offered for why states might obey international law—viz., self interest, absolutism/normative commitment, transnational legal process, etc. Rather, against the background of that hyper-nationalism known as American exceptionalism, he discusses the various American thinkers from Leo Strauss to Robert Kagan who helped produce George W. Bush's neo-conservatism or, more accurately, who helped produce the neo-conservatism of Paul Wolfowitz, et al. who captured the non-intellectual George W. Bush.1 To be sure, realists like Robert Kaplan are mentioned, along with natural law theory and other general points. (Natural law theory might be seen as a form of constructivism, since natural law is not written clearly in the clouds but is the product of human argument.) General treatments, however, are not Schulz's strong points, and the introduction meanders somewhat rather than producing a clear framework that will be followed by the other authors.2 Those authors do certainly subscribe to Schulz's point that Bush policies on human rights are not to be emulated, for the most part.

Schulz omits a key point. American exceptionalism can be combined with considerable prudence, which of course is characteristic of realism. Many early US leaders, while subscribing to the city on a hill thesis about the goodness of the US and its divine inspiration, also believed [End Page 811] in isolationism, or perfecting the US at home and not crusading abroad in search of monsters to destroy. Even Ronald Reagan's roll back theory as applied to the evil empire of communism, pre-Gorbachev, was directed more to Nicaragua than the Warsaw Pact. Franklin D. Roosevelt combined American exceptionalism with considerable multilateralism, not to mention with some realism, in arguing that the US had a special role to play in the creation of the United Nations and other international institutions.3

In any event, Schulz's central point is that, John Bolton not withstanding,4 the neo-conservative moment has passed, and the next President should implement a moderately liberal wish list: ratify at least the Convention on the Rights of the Child, move toward acceptance of the International Criminal Court, stand for election to the UN Human Rights Council, be more sophisticated about democracy promotion, take "the responsibility to protect" or humanitarian intervention seriously in places like Darfur, and make US domestic policies conform to international human rights standards. It is...


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