Gen. David Petraeus
still has no interest in entering politics, despite the speculation
surrounding his upcoming speech at a New Hampshire college.
"I have spoken at numerous universities, World Affairs
Councils, and other venues all over the country in recent years ... and this is
just one more such event," Petraeus said in an e-mail to The Cable. When asked if he had any interest in entering politics,
he responded, "No, as I've said repeatedly, on the record."
OK, clear enough.
Petraeus will talk at Saint Anselm College in Manchester,
New Hampshire, at the end of this month, the college's newspaper reported.
When rolling out the State Department's new
report on human rights Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the opportunity to
announce that, for the first time, the United States this year will submit
itself to a process in which America's record might be judged by some of the world's
worst human rights abusers.
"Human rights are universal, but their experience is
local. This is why we are committed to holding everyone to the same standard,
including ourselves," Clinton said, referring to America's participation this
fall in what's called the "universal periodic
review" (UPR) process, run by the U.N.'s controversial Human Rights
Critics say the 47-member
council, which was established in March 2006 to replace the U.N. Commission on
Human Rights, has been hijacked since its inception by notorious human rights
violators such as Cuba, China, and Egypt. George W. Bush's administration
refused to join, citing the council's nondemocratic makeup and its frequent
criticisms of Israel, but the Obama administration reversed
that decision last spring.
All 192 U.N. countries are supposed to go through
the UPR process every four years, but the United States is now committed to the
council and cannot easily dismiss its findings out of hand. Former Bush
administration officials fear that by participating fully in the review, the Obama
team is simply giving human rights abusers the perfect chance to justify their
Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human
rights, and labor, defended U.S. participation in the review and the council in
an interview with The Cable.
"It's our turn," Posner explained. "The good thing
about it that every country is compelled to do it. We're going to do a good job
of it. We want to lead by example."
Participating in the review will give America more
credibility to go after other countries on human rights, Posner argued, assuming
the U.S. government takes it seriously and defends its record ably.
"My goal is to be able to complete the [UPR] report
and after that come out even more aggressive on countries like Cuba, North
Korea, Burma, and Russia," Posner said. "We'll be in a stronger position if we
do a good report and we will."
Here's how it all works. First,
the U.S. side will spend months compiling a detailed report to submit to the council
about how the country is meeting its international commitments on human rights.
("We're in the middle of doing consultations with human rights, civil rights
groups around the country," Posner explained in a March 2 press
briefing.) The State Department will be open to public input until April 30,
and then finalize its submission of no more than 20 pages. Then, at some point
this summer, lots will be drawn to choose three countries to serve as a panel
to review the U.S. submission. That panel is called the "troika."
Silverberg, assistant secretary of state for international
organization affairs in the Bush administration from 2005 to 2008, warned that the
U.S. record on human rights could quickly become politicized, especially
because the troika's mission will be to find something to criticize.
"Countries like Burma and Iran will then use that
criticism to justify their own atrocious human rights records," she said.
The review is slated to take place in the fall. As
part of the process, each member of the council will have the chance to ask the
United States questions about its human rights record. But the order of who
gets to ask questions is based on who physically gets in line to sign up for
the opportunity first.
In the past, worst-offending countries have gotten
in line early, sometimes even the night before, in order to be first to ask
questions and then drain the clock by lobbing softballs to other countries with
which they have friendly relations.
"Countries that deserved a lot of scrutiny were
getting bouquets thrown at them by friendly countries. It was ridiculous," said
Posner. The American team recently has begun sending a representative to stand
in the line overnight, he added.
The Obama administration is well meaning in its
attempts to engage the council and that may yield public relations benefit, said
David Kramer, who served as assistant
secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor toward the end of the
Bush administration. But ultimately, those benefits are immeasurable and U.S.
attempts to reform the council are likely to fall flat, he predicted.
"At the end of the day they may wind where we were
at the end of the Bush administration, which was very frustrated," he said. Bush's
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice initially
allowed the U.S. government to participate in the council as an observer, but
later decided to withdraw altogether. Her spokesman, Sean McCormack, said in
June 2008 that the council had a "pathetic
record" in fulfilling its mission.
Kramer told The Cable that Rice's decision "was
based largely on the feeling that it was a bit of a joke. It was a feckless
organization that it was not worth the time or effort to try to improve it ...
made up of countries that have no business telling other countries about human