From a noted historian and foreign-policy analyst, a groundbreaking critique of the troubling symbiosis between Washington and the human rights movement
The United States has long been hailed as a powerful force for global human rights. Now, drawing on thousands of documents from the CIA, the National Security Council, the Pentagon, and development agencies, James Peck shows in blunt detail how Washington has shaped human rights into a potent ideological weapon for purposes having little to do with rights—and everything to do with furthering America's global reach.
Using the words of Washington's leaders when they are speaking among themselves, Peck tracks the rise of human rights from its dismissal in the cold war years as "fuzzy minded" to its calculated adoption, after the Vietnam War, as a rationale for American foreign engagement. He considers such milestones as the fight for Soviet dissidents, Tiananmen Square, and today's war on terror, exposing in the process how the human rights movement has too often failed to challenge Washington's strategies.
A gripping and elegant work of analysis, Ideal Illusions argues that the movement must break free from Washington if it is to develop a truly uncompromising critique of power in all its forms.
The ideology and institutions of the human rights movement are unwitting "weapons" of America's ruthless statecraft, argues historian Peck (Washington's China). He condemns Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups for a legalistic conception of human rights that champions individual civil and political rights while downplaying economic and social injustices. Their approach, he contends, has abetted Washington's military adventurism, in Vietnam, Central America, and Iraq, by supporting humanitarian intervention as pretexts for invasions; by trying to regulate America's wars of choice while ignoring their illegality and systemic provenance; and by denouncing the violence of insurgents without acknowledging a right of revolutionary violence against class inequality and foreign domination. Peck's Chomskyesque analysis of American foreign policy as an exercise in capitalist imperialism and generic "power" projection can be repetitive, but many of his charges, especially those concerning the whitewashing of abuses committed by the U.S. and its allies, and the tacit endorsement of America's right to attack other countries, do stick. The result is a useful, thought-provoking challenge to the Western human rights consensus.