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I am surprised at how cynical the comments have started off this morning.

Facts are Trump has no problem killing civilians as long as they're the right civilians, he will look the other way as Putin eviscerates Ukraine and quashes what's left of the civil liberty of his own people, and as Xi finishes the cultural and to some degree genetic eradication of Uyhhur Muslims and prepares to annihilate a functioning democracy at his doorstep, he will empower right wing nutjobs to diminish LGTBQ rights and home and abroad, he will corrode the freedom of the press and undermine the integrity of our elections (and let's be real, if America slips out of democracy there will be backsliding in other democracies too), and he will once again seek to crush legal immigration while maximizing the cruelty we inflict on illegal immigrants.

Biden does not and will not do those things. Anyone who seriously argues otherwise is delusional. This is not that complicated.

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If there's one theme to this comment section, it's an utter disdain for making the perfect the enemy of the good. And what do I see? A slew of comments cynically calling to do just that. The US has to deal some unsavory characters to function on the world stage. That doesn't mean that we can do better and worse in our promotion of human rights.

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Good point. Commenters are those without the time, energy, resources and skills to write their own essays.

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Biden isn't actually stopping the Uyghur genocide either. Because no American president is going to risk our relationship with China over a human rights issue.

And while nobody should cheer Russia's (can we please say Russia?- it is a bad intellectual habit to talk about these things as if all of the US's adversaries are single person dictatorships) invasion of Ukraine, our opposition to it is based on the principle of territorial sovereignty (the same reason we opposed Iraq invading Kuwait, when the latter had a terrible human rights record), not human rights. Indeed, as is often the case in war, there are credible allegations of atrocities by both sides in the Ukraine conflict.

None of this is cynicism. It's just reality. We are a powerful country; powerful countries have a diplomatic profile that imperfectly maps on top of human rights concerns. We are, for instance, never going to give up our alliance with the Saudis over basically anything they do to their own population or even to other states in the region. Including anything the Saudis do to gay or trans people.

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I actually do think it's cynical to think that the only countries that can advocate for human rights are weak nations with no blemishes in their or their allies human rights record, because that's an impossible precondition and in effect means no nation can advocate for human rights.

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It's not that we can't "advocate" for human rights, it's that our advocacy is blunted by the fact that we basically have to mute or downplay our criticisms of allies with terrible human rights records, and can't dump the allies and maintain the internationalist/interventionist foreign policy that a lot of human rights types want.

And further, at the end of the day most of this is just rhetoric anyway. Not that we shouldn't bear witness, but bearing witness doesn't actually stop gays from being imprisoned and oppressed either in Iran OR Saudi Arabia.

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All advocacy is blunted by the realities of the world. That's not an argument against advocacy. I'm not under any illusions that a Biden reelection will usher in a new age of Aquarius and everything will be rainbows and sunshine.

The whole point of this post is that if you care about human rights advocacy, Biden is the superior choice over Trump.

I was raised Catholic. The world is a fallen place and we are deeply flawed people but none of that is an excuse to stop doing the work. People often get confused when formulating a moral framework of the world, thinking the sophisticated position is to point out the world is fallen and then engage in "reality". But that's not actually a very sophisticated position. You need to start from the fact that the world is fallen and we are flawed, and fight for the good *because* the world is fallen and we are flawed, not in spite of those facts.

And I appreciate you laying out your arguments carefully and thoroughly. You are forcing me to articulate my position better. Seriously.

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"You need to start from the fact that the world is fallen and we are flawed, and fight for the good *because* the world is fallen and we are flawed, not in spite of those facts."

+10000000

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And part of my point is you shouldn't care about human rights advocacy so much.

Really, you shouldn't. It's virtue signaling. It's making you feel good about yourself and the country you live in, rather than actually getting gays in Saudi Arabia or Iran out of the torture chambers.

Now, I am not saying you shouldn't care AT ALL. But you shouldn't care so much. This is like the 400th most important thing the American foreign policy apparatus does, and it can only be 400th in importance. You can't raise its importance without doing a great deal of harm to our society and to legitimate foreign policy goals we have that require good relationships with bad countries.

And what I am saying is not a matter of "sophistication". All this stuff about sophistication and cynicism is just labels.

One other point, though. I would say that there's also a very big human rights cost of the dismissal of realist concerns. You can see this cost in our Cuba policy and more recently in Venezuela. Both these countries have awful governments. But US sanctions have still managed to kill a whole bunch of people.

So ask yourself, are Cubans and Venezuelans really better off because of a "human rights focused" foreign policy? Or would they be better off if we just lifted the sanctions and traded with them?

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Virtue signaling is better than vice signaling.

I think we'd all be worse off if the US no longer stood for global human rights, no matter what our actual record of actions is.

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I think you're running with an idea that's pretty far from the contention of today's post. Today's post focuses on the narrow question about how, if human rights are something you prioritize as a voter, Trump was bad and would be worse.

It's not advocating for human rights primacy on the list of issues, which seems to be what you're arguing on.

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"So ask yourself, are Cubans and Venezuelans really better off because of a "human rights focused" foreign policy? Or would they be better off if we just lifted the sanctions and traded with them?"

I asked myself this and I concluded these things are not mutually exclusive and both would be good.

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I think our hypocrisy on global human rights (say things but don't necessarily back them up with action) has often been very valuable. My understanding is that dissidents and people fighting for human rights in their countries see expressions of moral support from the US as something to be valued, even if the US can't (or won't) do anything to go from expressions to intervention.

If we got rid of the hypocrisy by never giving these people verbal support, I think everyone would be worse off.

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The "we're a powerful country" trope would be more convincing if you would point out some non-powerful countries with the exemplar human rights record you seem to want(?). Or maybe this is a roundabout attempt to rehabilitate realpolitik?

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https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/03/opinion/united-nations-unrwa-palestinians.html

A very recent example: The foreign minister of Norway chastizing America, the UK, and Germany for cutting off funding to UNWRA, even though UNRWA is allied with Hamas and participated in the 10/7 attacks. Norway isn't powerful, but how many people would claim its human rights record is worse than America's? Dilan's point is that non-powerful countries like Norway can do stuff like that NYT article because they don't have that much foreign policy skin in the game.

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“UNRWA is allied with Hamas and participated in the 10/7 attacks”

How hysterical can you get? They caught 11 local employees moonlighting, if you care to recall what actually happened.

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It's not that non-powerful countries have great human rights records. But they can avoid some traps. For instance, the leaders of small countries don't really have to meet with the President of China or the King of Saudi Arabia if they don't want to. We basically have to.

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founding

You propose a series of what might happen in the future. Maybe you are right. But we have evidence of what happened under Trump from 2016-2020 and what has happened under Biden from 2021-2024.

I still won't vote for Trump. But it is not delusional to look at the state of world conflict today versus what it was in Jan. 2021 and think it was better back then.

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There was plenty of conflict during the Trump years as well, there’s an immediacy bias to think everything is worse now. Presidents don’t control the state of conflicts around the world, they can only play the hand they’ve been dealt.

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And this is because Biden, rather than Trump, is President?

I can see your standard uninformed voter making that connection. I can't see a Slow Boring commenter doing so.

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founding

It's complicated. Trump scared all of us with his unpredictability, his emotional responses, his generally unhinged persona and his willingness to be unconstrained by established norms. I suspect our adversaries were similarly unsettled and didn't want to risk escalation with us as a result. I don't think it's a coincidence Russian, Chinese and Iranian leadership refrained from some actions while Trump was in office.

To be clear, I will gladly take today's world with reasonable adults in charge of the US over the Trump world. And I don't want him back under any circumstance.

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I understand this argument, but I think it is deeply, deeply wrong. Just to take one really obvious example, Iranian leadership didn't refrain from actions while Trump was president--quite the opposite: their belligerent and destabilizing behavior ramped up considerably, both in volume and intensity. I would actually argue that the 10/7 attacks are in part a direct outcome of that ramping up process and of the Trump administration's ineffective and sclerotic response to it.

The problem is that the whole shadow war that happened in the Middle East during that period is just not the sort of thing that makes the news in a coherent way for ordinary people in the United States. And that's not surprising; there's a lot going on in the world, and it's a complicated conflict to parse. But the Trump administration made the problem much worse in part by sucking up all the news oxygen with their own constant antics.

But seriously: don't be the guy that repeats this Trump talking point about him somehow inspiring peace through fear or whatever. It's grossly wrong on the merits, and you can confirm what I'm saying pretty easily by spending a couple hours doing a deep dive on foreign reporting in the Middle East during the Trump presidency. Start by getting a good handle on the Saudi-Iran conflict, and then just make a quick timeline of actions taken in that period, and I think you will see what I mean.

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founding

I disagree with your interpretation.

I think three things at once: (1) Biden's foreign policy was too focused on being the Anti-Trump and this sent a bad message to Iran, Russia and China, (2) Biden's responses to the Russian invasion and the Hamas (Iran) attack on Israel have been terrific, almost flawless even, and (3) a return to Trump would be a mistake.

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

I get that you disagree with the interpretation, which is fine, but what I'm challenging is your factual claim.

You wrote, "our adversaries were similarly unsettled and didn't want to risk escalation with us as a result. I don't think it's a coincidence Russian, Chinese and Iranian leadership refrained from some actions while Trump was in office."

And what I'm saying is that they DIDN'T refrain from escalatory actions while Trump was in office.

Just to take the most obvious example, the Iranians, while Trump was in office, DIRECTLY attacked Saudi oil facilities with standoff munitions. They DIRECTLY fired on US troops based in Iraq. Not Iranian proxies, not Iranian-supported militias, not Iranian rockets given to other groups--the things that the Iran has done in the Biden years. In the Trump years, the Iranians launched attacks out of the home territory of Iran, including at US soldiers.

Interestingly, Trump himself does not dispute this claim. Far from it; he celebrates that he did not start a direct shooting war with Iran when his military advisors wanted to. Now, we can have a long an interesting discussion about that claim and the general analysis, and there's lots of room for reasonable disagreement. This stuff is complicated.

But your claim that Iran has been more escalatory in the Biden years is just flatly wrong, at least insofar as nothing is more escalatory than "shoot missiles directly from your homeland at your opponent and publicly acknowledge that those were your missiles."

I guess you could mount some kind of argument that the Houthis shooting at ships in the Red Sea is somehow more escalatory than the Iranians directly attacking ships in the Gulf in the Trump years. But most people following these events would say that the Iranians have been, if anything, more careful and less escalatory in the Biden years precisely by using proxies like the Houthis.

So, bottom line, I'm with you that foreign policy cause and effect is complicated and kind of an un-settleable argument. But you need to at least start with an accurate description of what has happened and is happening on the ground or you need to challenge that description in a clear way. Otherwise it just kind of makes the downstream analysis sound totally untrustworthy.

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I don't think it is a coincidence that Russian, Chinese and Iranian leadership refrained from some actions during a global pandemic. I appreciate that you don't want another pandemic any more than you want Trump back, but I find it weird how often people discuss the Trump years as though the pandemic did not happen.

We shouldn't give Trump credit for events that coincided with his time in office, especially given the reality-warping effects of the global pandemic. He was a wildly incompetent executive whose entire focus was keeping himself in the news and making money off of being president. It is entirely plausible that the invasion of Ukraine and the Oct 7 attacks—the two most destabilizing events of the Biden years—were planned because of Trump's incompetent leadership and they were just delayed by the pandemic.

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One could argue that Putin didn't *need* to act militarily while Trump was in office, because the latter was in the process of handing the destruction of NATO to him on a silver platter.

I recall that China was pretty aggressive vis a vis Taiwan and the South China Sea during Trump's administration, though again Xi probably thought that Trump was doing God's work for him in undermining alliances, so why take the risk of causing that to be reversed?

Not sure about Iran; I'd have to think about that more.

But to be sure we are in violent agreement on your last paragraph.

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In Jan 2021, many people in the world were on mandatory lockdown, or required to wear face masks, so drastically better now.

This is not to say that it is Biden’s humanitarian policies that caused the improvement, but goes to show why simple black-box now-vs-then is a poor evaluation framework.

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I was not making a comparison in terms of global conflict, I was laying out a set of issues, all of which have human rights aspects, and on all of which Trump was and would be worse than Biden.

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Time only moves in one direction, though. I bet lots of people would like it if the pandemic never happened, and therefore want to reset back to 2019.

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I can imagine progressives being so upset at US support for Bibi and Israel in Gaza that they refuse to vote for Biden or go for someone like Cornel West. It's hard to imagine them voting for Trump for that reason; if they do, they are truly lost souls.

I would hope they would conclude that while Biden not stopping the slaughter in Gaza is a terrible black mark for the US, they still have to vote for Biden lest we get Trump. That is, they should actively work to defeat Trump, no matter the implicit validation it gives of US Israel policy, rather than otherwise doing nothing to stop Trump's victory. I understand that can be a hard lift for some people. I hope they come to the right conclusion and maybe we should try gentle persuasion* as we acknowledge the high valence of the Gaza situation for them.

* Ben's post today is an excellent example of gentle persuasion.

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"I am surprised at how cynical the comments have started off this morning."

I am going to take this as a challenge to be even *more* cynical and to ding Trump for being WEAK and not the STRONG LEADER who alone can solve things.

If Trump were really the bad-ass tough guy he pretends to be and a STRONG LEADER he would have had all the Taliban GOONS in custody when he was POTUS extrajudicially killed/executed instead of LET OUT OF JAIL FREE to kill Americans, contractors, American allies and host terrorists.

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Keep cooking

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Keep cooking a half-baked idea like that? Or toss it out of the oven as burnt? :)

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I don’t disagree with any of this FWIW, if my comment is one of the cynical ones to which you refer.

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"Facts are Trump...will empower right wing nutjobs to diminish LGTBQ rights [at] home..."

This is an example of what you call a "fact"?

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And I haven't even mentioned women's reproductive freedoms!

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founding

In what countries has the state of women's reproductive freedom expanded during the past 3 years?

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It's not a done deal by any means, but Poland's new leadership has introduced a bill to legalize abortion up to the 12th week:

https://notesfrompoland.com/2024/01/15/tusk-pledges-bill-introducing-legal-and-safe-abortion-in-poland/

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Ireland

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Also Mexico.

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founding

That was in 2018

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Relative to the US, most of them.

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I'm not sure how Trump getting reelected makes this any better?

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founding

Good thing I'm not advocating for such a thing.

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The broader point here is right, but I really don't think leading with the selectivity of state department reports and quitting the UN human rights panel is really appropriate here.

Despite what Matt's NGO sources say, the State Department is fatally compromised by realpolitik and always has been, and the UN spends a lot of time not actually doing anything about human rights. Plus the charges of bias against Israel at the UN are well founded, as we have seen since 10/7. Many people in the UN/NGO/human rights lawyers sector expend massive amounts of time on the Israel issue in comparison to what it deserves, and basically buy into the "settler colonialist state" narrative and think Israel shouldn't exist.

At the end of the day the US isn't ever going to be a human rights leader, because we are a powerful country and powerful countries do things like ally with Saudi Arabia due to energy needs and placate China to keep consumer goods cheap and in order to work on global governance issues.

But what we can do- and where this piece scores- is not engage in massive human rights abuses ourselves, and Biden has been a massive improvement on that front.

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>At the end of the day the US isn't ever going to be a human rights leader, because we are a powerful country and powerful countries do things like ally with Saudi Arabia due to energy needs and placate China to keep consumer goods cheap<

That's cynicism to the point of absurdity. If your take is that a powerful country like the US will never have a *perfect* record on human rights, I'd agree with you: lack of perfection on human rights goes for every country, no matter how weak or powerful. But the United States can be a leader on human rights, and it would be a tremendous boon to humankind were we to resolve to do so.

In fact there is no reason we can't do better on human rights if we make this a priority. Reelecting Donald Trump will, among other things, telegraph to the world that human rights are indeed not a concern for Americans.

(Also, we don't need Saudi energy, and "placate" is the last verb I'd use to describe US policy toward China over the last five years!)

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Matt wrote a nice Bloomberg column once about the need for some hypocrisy in the global fight for human rights and democracy.

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The problem isn't the hypocrisy per se (although we really should lift sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela and pursue a better relationship with Iran). It's that people who talk up the human rights angles pretend the hypocrisy doesn't significantly undermine the effectiveness of the human rights message, when it obviously does.

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I am not sure if it stalled out, but a couple months ago, we got into a six months sanctions waiver with Venezuela for mixed motive reasons. Or, for realpolitik reasons, but with a human rights/democracy lipstick on it. We started permitting Venezuelan oil and gold sales and the Venezuelan government permitted their opposition parties to hold primary elections. The mutual realpolitik benefits on the sanctions relaxation front for USA and VEN are obvious.

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Sure, but not cutting those deals would undermine the effectiveness of the human rights policy, which is more important than the messaging.

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I disagree that we have a human rights policy as such, other than messaging.

Our military intervention decisions, sanctions decisions, and other substantive policy levers are in the main pulled against entities that defy the United States, not human rights abusers, and sometimes are pulled in defense of major human rights abusers. We do pull some levers behind the scenes in favor of human rights (and sometimes that does work, to be clear), but those are less central to our policy.

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Hypocrisy is a pretty overrated political sin overall as well.

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People are saying!

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As long as we understand the concept of the “entropy of victory”.

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It's not cynicism and it isn't absurdity. (Seriously, is "cynicism" the new buzzword of foreign policy hawks, replacing "isolationism" as the preferred insult against anyone who recognizes reality as a part of foreign policy?)

It's not a matter of not having a "perfect record". You need to confront the reality of what Saudi Arabia is. Saudi Arabia is a country that is run by a few rich playboys who engage in all the conduct they deny their own population. There is no freedom of expression there, there is no religious freedom and religious minorities are oppressed or driven into exile, there is massive discrimination as to who can become a citizen, there's massive oppression of women, there are enormous human rights abuses, and you do not want to be a gay or trans person there.

Further, they export their ideology through their funding of madrassas that train the world's jihadists, and they also are a regional nuisance which foments war in neighboring countries (most notably in Yemen).

And, on top of all of that, the Saudis funded the 9/11 attack and killed 3,000 innocent Americans.

Pretty bad record, right? But not only do we not try to change their regime, not only do we not sanction them. They are our ALLY. We help them!

None of this is cynicism. This is simply what it means to be a powerful country. Being a powerful country we consume a lot of energy, both to maintain our high standard of living and our military power. This makes us very exposed to the price of fuel. Hence, our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

This is how the world works. I could tell a similar story about our relationship with China, or our relationship with Egypt, or our relationship with Pakistan.

And on the other side of the ledger is not some great accomplishment in changing the human rights situation in the world. As I said, we bear witness. But everyone sees our relationship with Saudi Arabia and knows we are BS'ing-- they know that we criticize Cuba and Iran and Venezuela and North Korea not fundamentally because they are human rights abusers, but because they are human rights abusers who do not serve the United States' foreign policy interests.

But even more than that, bearing witness is simply of limited utility. China is imprisoning a million Uyghurs and destroyed the freedoms that made Hong Kong a special place. Are we stopping any of that? No. We can't. Because the US doesn't have any magical power to stop human rights abuses throughout the world.

Liberal internationalists simply far overrate this stuff. And they are also part of the caucus that is BS'ing. I will take the first liberal internationalist who calls for the evil government of Saudi Arabia to be toppled and replaced seriously. As I said, though, whoever says that will be the first to say it, because nobody actually thinks that should happen, because at the end of the day, powerful countries care about their power and not the repression of Saudis at the hands of one of the worst governments in human history.

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As an added bonus for overthrowing the current government of Saudi Arabia, you can add your own name before Arabia! Steve’s Lee’s Arabia! What other country gives you that opportunity? It’s like sponsoring a bowl but it’s an entire country.

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Don't tell President Trump that. He likes to put his name on things....

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

PopTarts Arabia here we come?

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So Allah commanded "Let them eat of the Popped Tart and fill their bellies with jellied sustenance, for I am the Lord" and there was much rejoicing, energy drink slamming and monster truck riding [Quran 83:34]

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What is commonly said about aging also applies here: reality is not for the faint of heart.

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I'm not one to defend the Saudis but they did not fund 9/11

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deletedFeb 5
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I think, slowly, we will. But it's going to be frustratingly slow for human rights advocates, because the military is only going to fully switch to renewables if it has absolute assurances that everything will work perfectly and the solar powered tanks won't get stranded on the battlefield. (Gasoline is portable!)

So they are going to care a lot about the price of gas for a long time to come.

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I don't think our policy toward Saudi Arabia is driven by the military's use of fossil fuels.

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If the civilian economy substantially transitions to renewables, then demand for gasoline should fall, and the price with it, so the military should be fine. If the civilian economy doesn't substantially transition to renewables, then high gas prices will become a huge problem for domestic politics long before they become a problem for the not-exactly-starved-for-cash military. Either way, this won't be a bottleneck.

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The price of gasoline will remain high because global energy consumption is still going up and up.

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deletedFeb 5
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Actually one way we could deemphasize the region and deemphasize the Saudis is if we could pursue a better relationship with Iran. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed for at least the near future.

Given where we are now, we can't afford to antagonize 2 major Middle Eastern oil producers. That, and the substantive realities of confronting Iran, is going to keep us tied to the Saudis for some time to come.

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Next to the recent emergence of Russia as the primary source, Saudi Arabia has been China's dominant provider of oil. Keeping the oil flowing and now with protecting the sea lanes from Houthi attacks is perhaps the main way the US Navy has been guarding the economic interests of China.

Glad to be of service, Xi. Let us know if there is anything else we can do for you.

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I do not agree that its selective for Ben to point out that Biden's human rights record (especially from a Progressive viewpoint) is vastly superior to Trump's. Pointing out that Trump never cared about human rights, unless it pandered to his base, while Biden has actively taken steps to not just care about human rights writ large but also care about the results of American military actions is an important distinction. Saudi Arabia is an area where Biden felt the need to change his policy back towards the traditional American one, and where Biden and Trump are similar.

But that does not change Ben's critique which is that Biden is actively working towards a greater understanding of human rights than not. No, Biden's record isn't perfect, but making the perfect the enemy of the good has been Matt's general critique of the Progressive activist base since this blog started. I would also argue even Biden's Saudi policy is a step in the right direction compared to Trump. Trump refused to even attempt to face the contradiction in America's Middle East policy (the fact that our Arab allies are demanding Israel to recognize a Palestinian state while Israel does not want to), while Biden is at least trying (which is not to say it will work).

And I also further disagree: the US is a human rights leader. No, we are not the perfect leader we imagine ourselves to be, but that does not change the fact that basically unlike every other major power we do put human rights (at least occasionally) ahead of our own interest, and frequently they align. It is simply not true that the US cannot care about human rights while also pursuing its own interests.

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Feb 5Liked by Ben Krauss

While Matt didn't write this post (Ben did), why not treat Slow Boring like a research lab where the lab director puts his name first (sometimes last) on published papers even if he didn't do any of the work. It's his site, dammit.

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I completely missed that I apologize to Ben, the true author

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Your first paragraph argues against a straw man. Read my post again.

As for the rest, if you want a "greater understanding of human rights", US foreign policy is simply not where you are going to find it. That's not what we, or any powerful country, pursue.

Under any grand theory of human rights, China's imprisonment of over one million Uyghurs is about as urgent a human rights concern as there could possibly be. And we are doing nothing about it, and nobody, including people who claim that human rights should be the animating concern of US foreign policy, is advocating we do anything about it.

We don't actually put human rights ahead of our own interests. That's not an accurate description of US foreign policy. Indeed, we even subordinate human rights to internal politics, as seen in various sanctions regimes that do nothing for human rights but do kill plenty of foreigners while allowing US politicians to claim they care.

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author

The general point of this piece isn't to define Biden as a great humanitarian. But rather to point to several significant instances where Trump took, relatively needlessly, US foreign policy in a less humane direction. Biden on the other had, was a relative improvement. I'd say in regard to airstrike policy he's been a historic improvement.

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I think you are right about airstrike policy (and more generally about the military end of our foreign policy) and think you should have led with that. The State Department human rights reports and the UN have some pretty fatal flaws because of realpolitik (and in the latter case due to systematic bias against Israel in the bureaucracy and among its constituents).

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author
Feb 5·edited Feb 5Author

Is it better for humanitarian outcomes across the world for our human rights reports to become extremely anti-lgbtq, anti-abortion, and supportive of a world that processes less asylum claims?

As for the UNHRC, it's totally ethically dubious. But they play a major role in investigating human rights abuses. It's better for the US to be in that body than standing on the sideline for the sake of political posturing.

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The first paragraph is arguing against this statement:

"but I really don't think leading with the selectivity of state department reports and quitting the UN human rights panel is really appropriate here."

I completely disagree with it. Yes, the State Department (and American foreign policy in general) constantly makes compromises on what the current leader presumes is American interest and human rights writ large. So sure, if your argument is that the State Department will frequently compromise human rights in pursuit of American interest: fine, I concede. But that point neither proves that Matt's critique is wrong, nor is it entirely accurate either.

Biden, like Trump, has compromised human rights generally in favor of American interest where he deemed appropriate. That does not mean that Biden's foreign policy cannot directionally be far superior to Trump's from a human rights perspective, which is exactly what Matt's critique shows. Biden, unlike Trump, considers human rights as a cost of American actions and it shows in BOTH how we use drone and air strikes (where we now factor in that civilian death tolls are something we must consider before a strike) and critique (our allies mind you, Iraq is an American ally) when we provide records. Which makes them appropriate places to start.

Furthermore, I would also add that occasionally (perhaps frequently) pushing for human rights can coincide with American foreign policy. You can conclude, for instance, that killing civilians during military strikes hinders US foreign policy by weakening our standing within the third world and the countries where we are active. Therefore it could be considered both real politik and pro-human rights at the same time.

So sure, you can be correct that the US (like every country, even weak ones) will place their own interests over human rights in general, that does NOT make you correct that Matt's critique of the two POTUS state departments is not in and of itself valuable and that the human rights difference between the two is not worth considering. I also would further disagree that pushing human rights is never in America's FP interest as it frequently is in our interest.

To use the current struggle as an example. You could argue that supporting Israel is a matter of supporting human rights from two angles. First, Hamas is a genocidal organization intent on killing Israelis over the welfare of its own people. Eliminating a murderous quasi state on the border of any nation state enhances human rights first by providing security to Israel (to stick with this example) and to potentially free Gazans from this autocratic regime. Second, by supporting Israel over Hamas the US has given itself leverage to force Israel to improve its own conduct by ensuring at least some aid enters Gaza, and now by potentially pushing Israel to change its behavior in who runs Gaza after the war.

To be clear; I am not trying to argue that the US is doing either thing to push human rights per se, but I am suggesting that you can examine both Biden and Trump's policy and conclude who is better for human rights directionally, and who considers human rights impacts as a cost of American FP (and whether it serves our interest). On all counts: Biden is far ahead of Trump.

Which is why I think your critique, while potentially correct on "FP not being about human rights" is wrong to conclude we cannot analyze and critique FP from a human rights perspective and judge the comparative merits of Trump and Biden.

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I didn't argue that Biden was directionally not superior. Indeed, I very much argued he was.

But the US' concerns as a great power are not simply a minor detour from our pursuit of human rights. They fundamentally make it impossible for us to put out a coherent pro-human rights message. We are literally supporting one of the very worst governments on Earth because they sell us oil. This isn't some minor omission from our human rights message-- it screams out that we pursue our interests and don't care about human rights.

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OK, but the piece is arguing that Biden is directionally superior: that's the whole point of the piece! Furthermore, where Biden is directionally superior is on foreign policy in the State Department, which you argued is not a place to even have this discussion. You also ignored my argument that the US has, and can, push human rights to push its own interests.

You are, in many ways, making the same argument that Progressives do which is that the only way to be a good human rights pusher is to never be hypocritical which is impossible. You are also ignoring where two different human rights causes can conflict (which I would argue is actually the case in Israel/Palestine).

But the piece was never arguing that America's current foreign policy is not hypocritical, nor was the piece suggesting that our human rights stance is coherent. Instead, the piece argued that Trump's foreign policy was disastrous on human rights (which you have not argued against) and that Biden's foreign policy is far more humane, even if it does not agree with every critique provided by the Progressive movement.

All of which runs through the State Department, which is why the piece was appropriate to start there.

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I think the way to be a good human rights player is to engage in realist conflict avoidance, attempt to settle disputes as an honest broker, and occasionally pull levers when they are available.

And I think the US is generally very bad at those things, even though concededly we are a better global citizen under President Biden than we were under President Trump.

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"Realpolitik" is often good though. Being a amoral realpolitiker and just saying "Actually we shouldn't fight an opened ended war just so Afghan girls can go to school, that's not in our core national interests" is actually good and in the long run I think Biden was right to be a realist and leave Afghanistan. Same with saying "Saddam is evil but he's not really a threat to us and we don't need to invade" was much better than the idea, based in respect for morality and in foreign affairs, that "Because he gassed the Kurds and is breaking international law (and he was!) we have no choice but to invade."

As I see it one of Trump's big problems is he engages in foreign policy designed solely to enrich himself personally (hence loving Putin and MBS, they give him money etc) rather than a hard nosed realist approach for what's best for America, which is often what the country needs in tough situations.

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I don't know if this is in the spirit of your comment, but I see all of the actions by the Trump administration as an effort to stop providing ammunition for the false equivalency that America is "just as bad" as these other countries. "The US Leaves Human Rights Council" sounds bad without the context that the council is at-best hypocritical and at-worst an example of newspeak.

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>> he also equated abortion with slavery

Can we not do this? It’s really tiresome when people trot out this lame criticism of pro-lifers.

Regardless of what one personally believes about abortion, it should be perfectly fucking obvious that *within the pro life context*, the comparison to the moral harm of slavery is valid. Pro-choicers should stop acting so fucking shocked by this.

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

This whole thing where people profess performative outrage over the drawing of analogies per se rather than criticizing the merits of the comparison in relevant part is absolutely poisonous to reasonable discourse and I want to see it ground into the dirt under the bootheel of reason.

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The flaws of the argument—on the merits!—make themselves very clear if you think about the analogy for more than 2 seconds.

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Oh please. That’s incredibly epistemically arrogant of you. People can have different priors, y’know.

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People can believe incorrect things, yes.

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We all believe incorrect things. Absolute truth exists, but none of us can definitively prove that anything we believe is not biased by how our upbringing influences our priors.

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founding

I don’t think they do. If you really think that the wrong of murder or slavery is about taking a life away from someone, and you really think that what a fetus has is a life, then it’s really a natural comparison.

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I am taking a firm stand and claiming the right to deem an argument bad and a comparison false if it is predicated on a dumb and wrong belief. Comparing the right to self-determination of sentient people to that of a cluster of myocardial cells that move synchronously (i.e., the definition of viability used to deprive women of bodily autonomy in several states) falls squarely into that category.

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I think it's fair to say "that belief is wrong, I won't modify policy to support it." It's _not_ fair to say "since I believe the belief is wrong, what they must _actually_ want is to control women's bodies", and that will do precious little to arrive at a tolerable compromise (which you may _have_ to compromise with because whether the belief is right or wrong they _do_ believe it and they _do_ vote)

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I made no claims about the desire to control women’s bodies or any motivation whatsoever. That is simply the empirical result of laws passed based on wrong and dumb beliefs. If you want to broaden the scope of the argument, that is a different discussion. I am quite specifically impugning the wrong and dumb belief that a fetal heartbeat has any significance because I hold the belief that people think and perceive with neurons organizes into organs called brains, not heart tissue capable of generating a measurable electrical signal at regular intervals.

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"I am taking a firm stand and claiming the right to deem an argument bad and a comparison false if it is predicated on a dumb and wrong belief."

Its very easy for me to assume that where you disagree with me, you do so because you believe something predicated on a dumb or wrong belief. If I assert the right you claim to deem any arguments you make to be bad and your comparisons false, are you likely to think I'm an honest interlocutor?

Now perhaps you don't care about being considered an honest interlocutor in these discussions, but then why bother joining them at all then?

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Equating the right of a clump of myocardial cells to that of a sentient woman is not a hypothetical or a belief. It is the law in several states. Yes, I assert that policy outcome is base on a wrong and dumb belief. If you disagree, then the burden is yours to defend that policy; not a hypothetical, not a broader claim, not exceptions, not third trimester abortions, but the specific reasoning of fetal heartbeat bills, which I assert are wrong and dumb because they are based on wrong and dumb beliefs. If you also think they are dumb and wrong, then we are in agreement. If you don’t, then please, by all means defend them and explain how my belief that woman > clump of myocardial cells is dumb and wrong.

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Feb 6·edited Feb 6

"I am taking a firm stand and claiming the right to deem an argument bad and a comparison false if it is predicated on a dumb and wrong belief."

This is kind of insane, though, right? Famously, Fresnel and Stokes both argued that you should be able to detect the motion of Earth through changes in the local speed of light, because the light-carrying aether would be in relative motion. Then Michaelson and Morley went looking for that motion, couldn't find it, and sparked Einstein's theory of special relativity. Was Fresnel and Stokes' argument "bad" and a "false" comparison to water waves just because it was "predicated on a dumb a wrong belief" (namely, that any wave must travel through some physical object)? Of course not, right? It was brilliant physics! We should be able to separate our admiration for an argument's skill, aptitude, and concision, from our agreement with its premises.

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My position is that arguments and comparisons that flow from wrong *and* dumb beliefs can be dismissed as bad. In fact, I will go further and assert that this heuristic is a vital part of the scientific method because it saves us the effort and time of trying to disprove assertions that are immune to empiricism either because they are dumb and provably wrong or they cannot be falsified.

Assuming that light must be propagating through Aether is wrong, but it's not *dumb* because it was based on the current understanding of the natural world; it is rational to assume that all waves must propagate through some medium because all observable waves to that point were indeed conducted through a tangible medium. If anything, the fact that it was wrong, but *not* dumb is why it piqued Einstein's interest. Had they argued that you should be able to detect the motion of Earth through changes in the local speed of light because it light waves were carried around by little invisible fairies, Einstein would have been right to dismiss the argument as both wrong *and* dumb and pay it no further credence. Dark matter might not exist and believing in it might someday be proven wrong, but it is not a dumb belief because postulates based on the belief of its existence continue to predict observations correctly; and, critically, its existence is falsifiable.

It was wrong, but *not* dumb to believe that Earth is at the center of the universe and that the sun revolves around it because you could see the sun going across the sky every day. The wrongness is what led curious people like Copernicus to figure out the right answer and to prove it so rigorously that it is now wrong *and* dumb not to believe in the heliocentric model.

Apropos of this thread:

I think it is wrong to restrict abortions based on the belief that it is killing babies; however, that belief is *not* dumb. That is a perfectly fine place to begin an argument that, in principle, comes down to how you define a baby (which, I grant, is subjective, but we're now in the domain of public policy where consensus is paramount). But asserting that a fetal heartbeat has some significance it determining when a clump of cells crosses the line into life is based on a belief that is wrong *and* dumb. It is a stupid place to begin an argument and I reserve the right to pay it and any arguments or comparisons stemming from that wrong and dumb belief any credence.

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The key thing is that a fetus isn’t a human.

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I'm pretty far on the opposite side of the line from the pro-life crowd but I consider this claim nonsensical. The fetus does not have enough of the qualities that we think afford moral patiency to outweigh the inconveniences implicit in bringing in to term and/or raising it, but this is a fundamentally different claim than the essentially (false) biological statement that a fetus is not a human.

I believe Singer uses "personhood" to refer the concept of a sense of self persisting through time, which may better reflect what you were trying to get at.

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Ordinarily, larvae are not considered a different species. Why do humans differ?

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When do they become human?

A 30 week old fetus is not human while inside a women, but the second it exits a women it becomes a human? There is no substantive difference in the fetus from one second to the next. The implication is that what makes you human is your location relative to another person.

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Similar to my other comment, I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

And if you pick zero days without much evidence to back it up, don't go pikachu face on me when I pick 90 days.

By the way, if you are universally against abortion, I should warn you in advance that this isn't an argument you really want to have. Even "winning" it would be bad for your preferred outcomes.

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That’s fine except that the pro-life context is wrong and (in my view) it’s gross to compare abortion to chattel slavery.

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Sez you. I think it’s among the least “gross” things a pro-lifer can say. Todd Akin comes to mind as an example of something ACTUALLY gross.

Of all people, Milan, I would hope that you’d help join the crusade against Gross Inflation. Not everything has to be described as gross. And if we keep abusing it, it will lose its teeth to the ever-grinding treadmill that turns euphemisms into slurs and slurs into silly words.

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That’s fine. But I think that controlling women’s bodies does count as gross. I think that comparing a medical procedure to the ownership and sale of other humans is gross. Your mileage may vary.

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Plenty of people think calling elective abortion “a medical procedure” is as gross as referring to the T4-Aktion as “hygiene”. I’m not one of them, but it’s an understandable viewpoint.

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Plenty of people think things that are wrong. A nosejob is also an elective procedure; that does not mean it's not a medical one.

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We control women’s bodies from pulling the trigger on guns pointed at toddlers. Silly framing that elides the issue under debate. Sophomoric really.

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It’s becoming quite apparent that some of you do not talk to women on a regular basis. Sad!

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Excited to tell like 40 percent of America women that they are actually men since they are pro life. Bizarre (and offensive! Who made you King Woman?) non sequitur.

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That’s fair. Just trying to expand your horizon of grossness.

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I think the point here is that it's not great to try to call a discourse foul on your opponents if your complaint is founded in them being wrong on the merits. We want to have good discourse norms even when the participants disagree with one another, and that's not possible if no distinction is drawn between making an unsound argument and having premises that other people disagree with.

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I don’t think it’s about calling a “discourse foul,” it’s about the human rights implications. If one doesn’t agree that abortion is equivalent to slavery, treating it as though it is has negative human rights impacts.

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Sure, but not *further* negative human rights impacts beyond those from opposing abortion in the first place. Complaining specifically about the analogy implies that it's an additional sin on top of just being pro-life.

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The analogy is very stupid because embryos aren’t people.

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Please define at what point they become people.

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I think the idea might be that it shows the fervency of his opposition and also commits the US morally (if not in fact) to do something about it.

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If the premises are wrong then the argument isn’t sound; it may be valid if, granting that the premises are tue, the conclusion flows logically.

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Your close mindedness on this issue is unfortunate. Pro-lifers would argue that killing innocent life is gross. That seems like not a difficult thing to understand. While you hyperventilate in this issue you seem to refuse to deal with the tough question. When is abortion immoral and therefore should be illegal. I’m not interested in the nonsense that it’s rare beyond some period of time. That’s an intellectual weak position from someone like you. That’s a political talking point. What does your conviction say? Abortion to the end? No abortion in the 3rd trimester unless the mother’s life is clearly at significant risk? Have the courage to take a real position. Maybe you’re concerned it will impact your future opportunities? So we’re going to get nothing but political views from you? Do you have the courage to deal with the tough questions? We’ll see.

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Buddy, yes, you're going to get my political views here. This the comments section of a politics blog. My convictions say that it's not my body and therefore not my choice. I don't think abortion should be illegal.

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I don’t think abortion in the first trimester should be illegal. I think it should be restricted in the second and should largely be illegal in the third. I think allowing abortion in the third without it being an extraordinary circumstance is gross. You (as do many people) often take a simplistic approach to this in which you just engage in political pugilistic nonsense. This is a complicated issue and to quote a dirtbag “there are very good people on both sides”. And to add to that there are very bad people on both sides. It really is a tough one.

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Ezra's podcast with Kate Greasley on the ethics of abortion is outstanding.

TL;DL :: The ethics of abortion aren't *if* abortion is murder - it's *when*. The current ~ pro-choice maximalist position for the Dems is unfortunate, reactionary, and out of touch with the median voter. The fact our society has normalized abortions of a fetus with Down's syndrome is something I'm struggling to process.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/20/opinion/ezra-klein-podcast-kate-greasley.html

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Out of touch with the median voter and yet winning referenda in Kansas and Montana? Sure.

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

Can't follow. The median voter wants abortion access and yet also wants abortions to be rare. Biden's current messaging is focused on "freedom". It's a losing message. There's nothing inconsistent with the Kansas and Montana results. Biden should run towards them.

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/20/us/politics/biden-harris-roe-abortion.html

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It's been a popular message in all of the elections since Dobbs. Dems are still pushing the "safe, accessible, and rare" message that voters agree with especially compared to "the mother must die even if the baby has no chance".

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But in fact, there is an enormous difference between a moderate pro life position in 2020, such as "abortion should be more tightly regulated than allowed by Roe v Wade" and thinking that abortion is an evil akin to slavery, which is an extreme position held by a tiny number of people.

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So? All I’m saying is that it’s a valid comparison to make within the context. If you think abortion is murder or tantamount thereto, then it’s not hard to see the parallels.

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And that clarifies that Brownback is in the most extreme 5% of Americans on the issue, which is precisely the point being made.

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But aren’t we talking about the human rights impacts here?

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founding

If you think fetuses are humans, then the human rights impacts of abortion are very significant.

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Right. So if someone wanted to make the argument, "Don't for Biden, his pro-choice policies are a human rights disaster," that would not be out of bounds any more than "Don't vote for Trump, his anti-choice policies are a human rights disaster" is.

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If you think about it that way, they how do you conceptualize miscarriages? As manslaughter?

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founding

They view it as an unfortunate accident.

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More than half of fertilizations (sperm meets egg) end in miscarriage. That’s an awfully high accidental death rate if a zygote is a person.

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So? It’s a naturally occurring process - it happens without any human intervention. What are we supposed to do about it? People die of other diseases like Huntington’s too, and there’s nothing we can do about them.

But the existence of Huntington’s doesn’t make human life less precious or mean that we shouldn’t set bones and just leave people out to die.

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I don't want to break your heart with this news, but everyone dies! We strive to stop death at pretty much every point of life, from miscarriages to the elderly, but its all a delaying action. We also recognize there is a fundamental difference between "natural" death and a person causing death. There are reasons that the latter is allowed, but let's not conflate that with a natural death.

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What? In what way does the fact that things die by ways other than being killed relate to whether it is OK to kill them?

Cancer patients drop dead all the time so open season I guess.

I am pretty radically pro choice but people for some reason can’t reason logically around this issue and just sort of flair around!

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Duh.

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founding

Sometimes it seems as if Milan has never engaged with a pro-life person. I think the pro-life position is wrong on the weighting between a woman's right to choose and a fetus' right to life, but they are sincere in their beliefs.

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This is fallacious reasoning. In the Middle Ages children very often didn’t survive infancy so I guess infanticide is OK so we don’t have to think about that being sad!

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And that's the thing, most people have a strong intuition that abortion is not the same as premeditated murder of a child. So, I don't know why its surprising that pro-choice advocates would play up this intuition to support their cause.

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I personally am broadly pro choice because the issue is so complex and I really don’t know. That said, it always surprises me how people who are pro choice can so blithely reject pro life concerns about abortion being a form of infanticide. Particularly after the fetus could survive on its own. Again, I may not agree with this but the interpretation is plausible.

I think because the issue is so huge and complex people tend to completely discount alternate opinions on both sides.

If someone believed that abortion was infanticide I can see how any number of distasteful analogies could seem appropriate. As for commenters who say something like “they’re wrong” so it’s gross. I would argue that they should be a little more humble as none of us are gods with some kind of absolute knowledge of right and wrong.

I would say the same to prolife folks who are so certain that they know when life begins.

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>>it always surprises me how people who are pro choice can so blithely reject pro life concerns about abortion being a form of infanticide.

Personally, I suspect that this mostly started out as a cope. People don't want to be confronted with the cognitive dissonance.

However, these days the picture is more complex. Even before abortion was legalized, there was already a natural divide in human thought -- the Romans practiced infanticide, after all! It's just that most people in most societies throughout history couldn't conceive of a society where women would even HAVE the right to an abortion. It was just something people *did* and hoped they got away with.

Flash forward to today, and we have several generations now who have been steeped in explicit arguments about how a fetus is "just a clump of cells". At this point, it's just a meme, like most other beliefs. That's not to invalidate it: PLENTY of people GENUINELY believe in the "clump of cells" narrative today.

As I said elsewhere, like you, I try not to get too judgy about this issue. I personally think our medical technology is going to get to a point where we look up at NICU care one day and realize we've accidentally invented an artificial womb, and then this shit is REALLY going to explode. And when the dust settles, I suspect that people will look at abortion like we view leeching now: a barbaric and unnecessary tragedy, nevertheless motivated by the desire to alleviate suffering. If people want to chat with me about THAT, then I'm perfectly happy to; but otherwise, I think pretty much everything else that ever needs to be said about abortion already HAS been.

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I mean, when they can and do make inhumane legislation based off of that belief, I don't see why it is unfair to bring up. I get why it makes sense to them but that doesn't make it any less worse when they use it to justify horrific things.

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The UN Human Rights Council includes, like, China and Saudi Arabia and the like, right? Why on earth would we care what they say?

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It was also a bit awkward to write this sentence "In Eritrea, they removed documentation around widespread sexual violence against women in military training camps.", while praising the UN HRC. I think Eritrea is a current member. But that's my only real disagreement with the piece. Thanks, Ben!

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Good point! The UNHRC is a tricky body, but it does do some good work and it's better that the US is in it effecting policy than sitting it out. And it's of course, the Trump administration didn't pull out because they were particularly dogmatic about human rights policy. It's because they wanted to score political points.

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That's maybe correct! I still disagree (I think that the only use of the UN HRC is to give good PR to China or Cuba or Saudi Arabia or Iran or Qatar or...), but I can definitely be wrong. I guess my main point is that I can't think of something good that happened in the world that wouldn't have happened without the UN HRC. I think that the Security Council and the General Assembly are enough.

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The post at least tries to answer that question, by saying that as long as they do good work, then that work should be supported even if they're hypocrites who selectively ignore certain issues. If true, this is a good argument. That said, I wish the post had substantiated this claim with a little more than just a quote from one guy at an associated-but-not-affiliated org.

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The quote provided by the UN specialist at Human Rights Watch seems to suggest despite it's flaws, the UNHCR plays an important role. I think Human Rights Watch is a valuable and credible organization in the human rights field, so I'm going to defer to them on this.

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I appreciate where this article is coming from, but I'd like to put forward a very different way of thinking about an administration's "human rights" record.

This article thinks about administrations' records on human rights at a micro level. What do state department reports say about human rights? How discriminate were the rules of engagement for airstrikes? Did the administration join the human rights council of an organization that funds jihadists in its spare time? (just kidding, kind of)

However, I think most of an administration's impact on human rights is inevitably at the macro level. We can complain about the fact that the US acts as "world police." The simple reality, though, is that whenever most dictators and autocrats think about starting a war, they think about how the US will respond.

Which administration is more likely to put an end to Russian aggression? Which is more likely to deter Islamist terror? Which will deal with China effectively? From a big-picture perspective, these seem like the key questions in assessing an administration's impact on human rights around the world.

For the record, the answer may still be Biden!

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Probably the one not headed by a guy who got millions of dollars from China and who is for some reason buddy-buddy with Vladimir Putin.

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

You'll find no disagreement from me.

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

The goal of foreign policy is to protect American interests and support our allies. Releasing Iranian funds [edit: see below] back to that regime has been a mistake, as witnessed by the actions of Hamas and the Houthis. Ben might think the increased mention of human rights in State Department reports by the Biden administration has been good, I suspect the Israelis, the Ukrainians and the Afghan women would disagree.

Edit: the release was blocked after backlash in 2023.

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The release never happened. It was cancelled.

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founding

You are correct. It was blocked after backlash. Will add an edit.

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Cheers!

TBH, though, IMO there’s still a case for the counterfactual. Maybe Iran would have leaned harder on its proxies to stand down. I don’t think that’s *likely*, just saying it’s a perfectly plausible scenario which might have prevented 10/7, and sadly we’ll never know.

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I believe the problem is the agreement to release funds more than the actual release. Money is fungible and Iran benefited greatly from higher oil prices during the Russian invasion. I think the Iran heard a message that "we care more about the JCPOA than anything else" during those negotiations.

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Well, the JCPOA was aimed at stopping their acquisition of nukes, so, yeah, it was important.

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The JCPOA's aim was to stop their work toward having nukes. But I have serious questions about its effectiveness.

That it wasn't drafted or submitted as a treaty, rather than an obligation of the Obama administration, was its downfall. It didn't really bind us (or Iran) in any meaningful way.

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10/7 didn’t get a green light from Iran, it was largely intended as a spoiler for their rapprochement process.

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I'd say reopening the door to the Iranians getting nuclear weapons is an infinitely bigger mistake than whatever funds they got and how much that allowed them to increase support to these groups.

Thanks, Donald.

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Why? It's not like Iran can threaten the US mainland with a nuke. And they won't be able to for decades, if ever. Iran's support for armies outside its territory is a much more pressing concern for America's interests. See: the Houthis shutting down maritime shipping through the Suez Canal.

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I'd prefer for Iran not to have nuclear weapons.

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I would too. But an Iran with nukes but doesn't fund armies abroad that more directly threaten American interests is better than an Iran that does both.

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If we can't stop this ragtag band from attacking shipping in the Red Sea, then it's time to dismantle the Navy.

As for threatening our interests, I'd say that Gaza and the Israel-Lebanon border are not among our national interests. As to attacks on US personnel in Jordan, Iraq and Syria, I'd like to know why they're there.

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Biden is choosing to be proportional with the Houthis rather than obliterating them, which the Navy and Air Force are perfectly capable of doing. I don't understand the rationale for proportionality in this case.

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"If we can't stop this ragtag band from attacking shipping in the Red Sea, then it's time to dismantle the Navy."

I'm shocked to see you say this. Its like asking why Israel with the most powerful military in the ME can't stop some rag tag group in Gaza from shooting missiles into Israel.

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"It's not like Iran can threaten the US mainland with a nuke."

(1) This is Hawaii erasure 😉. (2) Confiscating highly-specialized centrifuges seems easier than confiscating boats.

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I broadly agree on goals, but you’re putting too much of the blame on Biden. There was not a good answer to Afghanistan. In retrospect, we should have defined our goals much more narrowly in 2001, focusing on the elimination of the Al-Qaeda base in Afghanistan and punishing the Taliban for hosting them. But we didn’t, and democratization failed, and somebody had to get us out of there at some point. I fully understand that it (a) was mismanaged, and (b) made us seem weak, but I don’t know if a much better outcome as possible.

Do you have complaints about how Biden has responded to Ukraine and Israel?

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I do not. His responses to those situations has been exemplary. I wonder how much of the statements early in the administration contributed to the choices made by Russia and Hamas (Iran). We will probably never know exactly.

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I think that one really really important Biden human rights win (maybe the most important one?) is that US net fossil fuel exports soared since his inauguration. The vast majority of petrostates (not you Norway) have an abysmal human rights record, and the world will be a much better place the moment that Russia/Saudi Arabia/Iran/Qatar/United Arab Emirates lose some of their power in the world stage.

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The quote from the Lewis book doesn’t really demonstrate anything. It’s innuendo - presenting something unshocking in shocked tones to shade the audience’s reaction.

Literally every administration does a similar process - they collect binders of suggestions from the state and local parties. The difference is that Trump selected these cronies based primarily on their expected loyalty to him and their expected cruelty in governance.

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

Yeah my reaction was similar to that excerpt. A bunch of people who were selected based on recommendations from the relevant people in the know (which is about as massive a selection effect as you can ask for) in fact were given the jobs for which they were recommended at the discretion of the Executive Branch? Quelle horreur!

I’m sure they were substantively awful but this a procedural non-event.

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Indeed. Reminds me of how NIMBYs get so shocked that "no one notified me" about the apartment building going up 5 blocks away, and bitch about procedure, even when the entire procedure WAS observed.

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I'm more sympathetic to the idea that construction notification procedures are byzantine and nonsensical and don't actually perform their putative notice function (this is, inter alia, a famous part of the beginning of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), see also this nightmare, which appears to have been adequately permitted and which the concerned parties admit they didn't object to the permitting for. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/05/nyregion/gentrification-one-percent-manhattan.html.

Conversely, "Executive branch seeks recommendations from same-party pols to fill appointment slots, appoints recommended personnel to said slots" is, like, exactly the way I expect things to work. What's the unintended consequence here?

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A lot of this seems to be about process rather than impact.

Who had a better or more effective policy for drone use is the important question? not whether there is a civil servant who tries to evaluate civilian death toll.

Do the various reports issued by the State Department help anyone?

They can at times offend allies and make diplomacy harder is the extra information they provide worth it.

An overarching question is whether the state department officials are good at their jobs and doing useful effective work. I have no idea what the answer is but there is no universal rule that long term officials are good or bad.

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The existence of those reports is often a bargaining chip.

If a bully shoulder-checks you in the hallway and you ignore it, they’re going to try to keep taking advantage of you going forward. But if you call them out on it and stand tall in their face, they have to work harder for people to not hate them as a bully.

The squealing is a feature, not a bug. When you DON’T call out the abuses, you end up with things like Jared getting his $2B from the Saudis on the back end.

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It's on the margins a good thing for the State Department to include mistreatment of gays in its reports. But it doesn't actually do much for gays in those countries because in practice a lot of homophobia is driven by religion (which is hard to change) and because at the end of the day we have to decide who to ally with based on realpolitik concerns (so we aren't going to do anything to prevent Saudi Arabia from locking up gay people, and thus everyone can see the hypocrisy when we criticize Cuba or Iran for the same thing).

At bottom, bearing witness to human rights violations has very limited utility. It is of course something we should do but it doesn't actually stop egregious human rights violations.

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"is the extra information they provide worth it?"

[Speaks in academe:] Yes, information is _always_ worth it.

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I think that you need someone evaluating civilian death tolls as a prerequisite to making policy determinations or cost-benefit tradeoffs that include civilian deaths as a consideration. Hard to improve what you aren't measuring.

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

Not sure how to feel here. I am very confident that Trump liked a bunch of horrible dictators and didn’t really care about civilian deaths (he is easy to manipulate and likes strongmen in general) and I am also confident that this was not some cold blooded but rational advancement of US interests abroad like Kissinger or whatever.

However I also have essentially no faith in the goodwill, capability, or basic “worldview to reality mapping” of the entire “human rights industrial complex” because of how biased and dumb so many of those people and institutions are so I don’t think empowering them is really a feather in the Biden cap.

Trump’s willingness to say “these people seem like losers and frauds, to hell with them” to various people is his most attractive feature! Alas he often thinks that group of people includes like “the federal reserve” and “judges” and “basic science” so in practice this works out poorly but every so often it’s a win (arguably NATO is an example here too because somebody has to bully them into free riding less but that’s obviously a tricky topic and Trump was mostly just flailing around here).

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Can anyone seriously claim that the state of human rights in the world today is better than it was three years ago? Clearly not. Russia, Ukraine, China, Gaza, Taliban, Iran, etc.

In the end, even the US under Trump, flawed as it may be, is still much better than China, Russia, and Iran. Therefore, the question of human rights is intertwined with whether the US is perceived as strong or weak. Under Biden, it is not perceived as strong. I'm not saying Trump is a good alternative, but the Republican Party generally has a better understanding of what will make the US strong.

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The notion Republicans are perceived as strong is pure nonsense, Biden has rallied Europe to support Ukraine, whereas republicans would abandon any international engagement beyond indiscriminate drone strikes….

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We shouldn't -need- to rally Europe to support their neighbor against outside aggression.

They aren't a member of NATO. We had no obligation* to support them.

Europe should have done this of their own volition without the need for any 'rallying'.

*That doesn't mean we were wrong to do so, but there was no obligation whatsoever.

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No we don’t have an ‘obligation’ to help Ukraine but it’s a good thing that we are helping them fight off Russia with no cost of American lives. Like it or not, if the US pulls back, Russia and China and other bad actors will be happy to fill the void.

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I mostly agree. My complaint is that Europe, as usual, is not pulling its weight from a defense perspective.

They want to hide under our defense umbrella while constantly criticize us, and generally be annoying little sh**s.

And Germany is the worst.

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wurst > worst

C’mon Belisarius, it was right there!

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What would Trump do on Ukraine and Gaza? Would those actions improve human rights in those areas or not?

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Regarding Gaza, the case is straightforward. Hamas’s strategy involves using its civilians as victims. This tactic is only effective against a Democratic administration; Republicans are not swayed by such maneuvers. This demonstrates the cunning of the West's adversaries, exploiting the West's sensitivity to human rights as part of their strategy. It is highly doubtful that Hamas would initiate such a venture under a Republican administration.

The situation with Ukraine is more complex, largely due to the difficulty in comprehending Trump’s unusual relationship with Putin. Traditionally, the Republican Party would have presented a much stronger deterrent from the beginning. Everyone remembers the debate where Obama mocked Romney for warning about Russia, and Obama's tepid response regarding the annexation of Crimea in 2014. However, I must admit, regarding Trump and Ukraine, I am uncertain how things would have played out.

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> Regarding Gaza, the case is straightforward. Hamas’s strategy involves using its civilians as victims. This tactic is only effective against a Democratic administration;

How's that working out for them?

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For who, Hamas or the civilians? Because the answer might be very different.

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My guess is that Ukraine's biggest problem right now is Congress, not whoever is in the White House.

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Hamas did not attack the US, it attacked a country led by a far right leader.

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

>In the end, even the US under Trump, flawed as it may be, is still much better than China, Russia, and Iran.<

Comparing our Jeffersonian democracy to authoritarian police states isn't exactly setting the bar high. I took Matt's piece to concern itself with America's willingness or ability to advance the cause of human rights *around the globe.* Given the primacy of the executive branch in our external relations, clearly the policies of the President have a bearing on this. Don't you agree?

EDIT: My apologies, Ben, for missing the byline. And nice piece, by the way: I agree with your sentiments.

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*Ben’s piece.

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