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Christianity, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Iraq, Opinion, United Nations

Aggressively Pursuing the Human Rights Agenda

by Jonah Jabbour

Undoubtedly, effective human rights policy has the ability to enhance the global image of the United States and strengthen its national security.  It is necessitated by the elevated state of threat to our nation and, to an extent, is where these abuses resonate. The reach of human rights policy, while admittedly difficult to quantify, is rooted in our nation’s desire to adhere to the moral principles that championed its own creation centuries ago and its willingness to promote them abroad.


Determining what specific rights qualify as human rights—whether freedom from slavery, access to clean water or the right to live—is a separate issue that requires a more in-depth analysis and will not be addressed in this article.  However, where human rights originate from, can indeed help emphasize their importance.

French theologian Jacques Ellul argued that “whenever man pretended that he could found his rights on his own strength and contain them within himself, his pretention was built upon violence.  Any distinction between violence and justice breaks down.  The strong man is right” (83).  Ellul indicates the strong man will be looking out for his own interests and not the interests of others—negating justice.  So these rights must transcend human invention and explain why they exist to rise above selfishness.

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The painting can be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill.

We can look towards the Bible for the foundation of human rights.  Genesis 1:27 states “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him” (The Holy Bible: NIV).  Not only are we created in God’s image, but he does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11).  These revelations pronounce the equality of God’s creation.  The  United States’ Declaration of Independence draws from this biblical foundation of equality: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 1776).

These three human rights—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—are integral to the creation of separate yet united states.  Derek Chollet and Tod Lindberg explain in A Moral Core for U.S. Foreign Policy that “the United States was founded not as a “values-free” rational calculator of what’s good for No. 1, but as a nation embodying certain values or principles that justified rebellion against its lawful sovereign” (13).  If a nation embodies such values then it has an obligation to promote them abroad, as God has created everyone as equal.


Advocating respect for human rights internationally has an ancillary benefit beyond moral basis—national security.  Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher explains:

“America’s strength in the world derives in large part from our ability to stand for something larger than ourselves” and that “our commitment is not only consistent with American values: It also rests on a sober assessment of our long-term interest in a world where stability is reinforced by accountable government and disputes are mediated by dialogue.”

He recognizes a correlation between international stability and U.S. security.  A look at some of the world’s most unstable countries shows a direct relationship between governmental instability and low human rights standards (Indicators of Instability).  It must be noted that external aggression is not the only indicator of a security threat; analysis shows that such threats often come from behavior within states (Daalder and Kagan, 15).

The U.S. government does identify that protecting human rights abroad aids in “securing peace” and preventing “humanitarian crises” (U.S. Dept. of State).  When a presidential administration makes human rights progress a priority, it has a strong influence in determining its impact.  But just as important will be the ability to rally international support.


The U.S. position as a world superpower can have great force into what can be accomplished.  The promotion of a focused human rights agenda by the U.S. would be a “powerful demonstration of what it wants to accomplish with its power and the values it wishes to uphold” (Chollet and Lindberg, 20).  In addition, effectively communicating and acting on such a policy has the ability to be a rallying point for allied nations (Chollet and Lindberg, 4).  International cooperation will be essential to effecting change, but a stronger human rights agenda will also require the cooperation of governments willing to act.

Ronald Reagan and Jeane Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick was ambassador to the UN for only one term and stepped down in 1985.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, a former U.S. ambassador the United Nations, advocates a willingness to intervene.  She explains “adequate human rights policy will have a realistic conception of the relationships among force, freedom, morality, and power, because history teaches us that in the real world force may be necessary to reinforce freedom” (80).  Public perception following extended intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan will no doubt play a role in future human rights intervention.  Human rights advancement requires an unwavering stance from the U.S. as well as a willingness to spring to action and respond.

The targeted rights within the larger “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” for which the U.S. must champion is beyond the scope of this article.  The United States needs to pursue a more aggressive human rights agenda.  It will no doubt be a challenge as “no single theory of law neatly accounts for all these rights, nor does any single strategy assure their balanced realization” (Traer 2).  A moral obligation was woven into the founding of the United States, and is still very present today. The necessity to protect this nation requires such a commitment.


 Christopher, Warren. “America’s Fundamental Dedication to Human Rights.” U.S. Department of State Dispatch 6.6 (1995): 73-77. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 17 Oct. 2010.

Chollet, Derek, and Tod Lindberg. “A Moral Core for U.S. Foreign Policy.” Policy Review Dec 2007/Jan 2008.146: 3-23. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 30 Oct. 2010.

Daalder, Ivo, and Robert Kagan. “”America and the Use of Force: Sources of Legitimacy”” Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide: a Project of the Stanley Foundation. Ed. Derek Chollet, Tod Lindberg, and David Shorr. New York: Routledge, 2008. 7-20. Print.

Declaration of Independence. 1776. Print.

Ellul, Jacques. The Theological Foundation of Law. “Trans.” Marguerite Weiser. New York: Seabury, 1969. Print.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001. Print.

“Human Rights.” U.S. Department of State. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <http://www.state.gov/g/drl/hr/&gt;.

“Indicators of Instability.” Foreign Policy May/June 2006.154: 53. Chart. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 28 Oct. 2010.

Kirkpatrick, Jeane J. “Establishing a Viable Human Rights Policy.” World Affairs 170.2 (2007): 75-80. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 17 Oct. 2010.

Traer, Robert. Faith in Human Rights: Support in Religious Traditions for a Global Struggle. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown UP, 1991. Print.



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