We should judge governments based on their human rights records

To the Editor:

Paige Austin ’06 vilifies the Bush administration for “spewing ominous threats toward Syria” (“Next Stop Syria? Bush Had Better Stop Fanning the Flames,” 4/24) She acknowledges the brutal legacy of the Assad dynasty, yet rejects as “incompetent imperialism” any manifestation of concerted U.S. opposition.

Austin concedes the Syrian government’s (1) “atrocious” human rights record, and (2) its support for Hezbollah. In the same breath, she stridently denounces U.S. policy towards the regime. Would Austin rather we ignore the Syrian terrorist connection? Should we leave it to be resolved by Jacques Chirac?

I agree with her in one respect. With American troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, now is not the time to start a war with another country. Besides, while Syria and Iran support terrorism, their leaders are not as brutal as Saddam Hussein. Given the Syrian government’s recent closing of its border with Iraq, and the visit of Secretary Powell to Damascus next week, peace prospects are favorable.

I oppose Austin’s anti-war positions because I hate dictators. In my opinion, we should judge governments primarily by their human rights records. The United States, as the world’s only superpower — or “hyperpower,” if you adopt the terminology of French intellectuals — must lead the fight against genocide everywhere. This is a moral imperative, arising from the difficult history of the twentieth century. National sovereignty — and arguments offered in support of it, often by despots — can be a meaningless foil, invoked to shield human rights abuses. In countries like Congo, Iraq, North Korea, and Rwanda, the world community must not spare any effort, including military intervention, to alleviate suffering.

For me, because Saddam Hussein was one of the world’s worst dictators, the war on Iraq was justified. I say this even though certain elements of this war are deeply troubling: the Bush’s administration’s patronizing treatment of the United Nations, the unilateralist rhetoric of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, and the initiation of hostilities without concrete evidence of the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Matthew Nickson ’03

April 24, 2003

The writer is a former editorials editor of the Yale Daily News.

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