Seeing an Empty Glass

Roger Normand in The Nation magazine laments the global assault on human rights.

Who is leading the assault? Not the scattered bands of terrorists, who rely on fear and chaos to magnify their threat and disguise their essential weakness.


Who might it be then? Kim Jong Il who runs a repulsive gulag state in North Korea? Perhaps it’s the Baath Party dictatorship in Syria. Or maybe the Iranian mullahcracy that sends its goons into the streets to attack protesters with sticks, chains, knives, and guns.

It is the world’s sole superpower

Oh. I forgot. I was reading The Nation

–the primary architect of the United Nations and its Universal Declaration–that is now shaking off all legal constraints to unleash the most destructive military machine in history.

The most destructive military machine in history! Worse than Nazi Germany! Worse than Stalinist Russia! Worse than the Khmer Rouge! Worse than Sauron’s Dark Army of Mordor!
(Gasp.) Let’s catch our breath.

The Bush Administration seeks nothing less than the open establishment of empire–termed “full-spectrum dominance” in the new Pentagon papers.

I think not.
1. a. A political unit having an extensive territory or comprising a number of territories or nations and ruled by a single supreme authority.
b. The territory included in such a unit.
2. An extensive enterprise under a unified authority: a publishing empire.
3. Imperial or imperialistic sovereignty, domination, or control: “There is a growing sense that the course of empire is shifting toward the… Asians” (James Traub).
Disagree with the expansion of liberal democracy if you hate it so much. But don’t go calling it “empire.”


Since open empire is incompatible with a post-imperialist world order based on human rights and the rule of law, the law must go. This means bypassing the “useless debating society” formerly known as the Security Council, when it refuses to rubber-stamp the unlawful invasion of Iraq.

The organization that puts the Libyan police state in charge of human rights is not part of a “world order based on human rights.” Sorry, it just isn’t.

With dangerous extremists on all sides planning for global war, we should remember that the modern idea of human rights law emerged from the slaughterhouse of World War II.

We are the only “dangerous extremists” he mentions by name in the entire article.

Faced with the public outcry “never again!”, the victorious powers had no choice but to recognize the full range of human rights–not only civil, political and religious freedoms, but also rights to health, education, housing, work, social security and adequate livelihood. If taken seriously, this revolutionary idea had the potential to overturn, through peaceful legal means, the established distribution of political and economic power.

“Never again” meant that no genocidal dictatorship would ever again be allowed to stand, which in practical terms means overthrowing it by force. Social security, while important, had nothing to do with it.

The Bush Administration now seeks to kill the human rights idea in its infancy and return the world to the law of naked power.


How is it that literate people can write sentences like this at a time when naked power has been overthrown and human rights are being codified into law in Iraq partly at the behest of the Bush Administration?

But the funeral may be premature.


Freed from the worst double standards of state power and invigorated by new forms of activism and solidarity, a broader and more inclusive human rights movement can join forces with the world’s second superpower: mass opposition to war and occupation, corporate-controlled global trade and the ongoing destruction of our environment.

I know it’s popular among a certain set of people to say that war is always bad and nothing good ever comes of it. But we need to get one thing straight right now. Mass opposition to democratic nation-building in tyrannical dictatorships will not yield a single accomplishment for human rights. Ever.
The title of Mr. Normand’s article is Facing the Human Rights Abyss. Not once does he mention the good news of late, that 20 million people were liberated from a regime modeled after Stalin and the Nazis. He’s the type of guy who sees a glass half full of water and hallucinates a hole in the bottom that drained the thing dry.



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