In an October 15, 2021 Arab Digest podcast hosted by William Law, “MENA’s hard road to democracy,” Deputy Director for Research Amy Hawthorne comments on the troubled state of multiple democratic projects in MENA and the lack of U.S. action taken to center human rights in its foreign policy throughout the region.
“What I find a bit perplexing, and I have some ideas as why this is happening, but why Biden and his top officials continue, not just during the campaign, but now that they’ve been in office for 10 months or so, they continue to repeat this rhetoric about putting human rights and the support for democratic values at the quote unquote, as you said, “center” of U.S. foreign policy. It is a bit surreal, at least in the region that I study the Middle East and North Africa, because nowhere in this region is the U.S. government putting human rights at the center of its relations with any of these countries. And if that were ever to happen, we would see a completely different policy. We’d see a dramatic reduction or zeroing out in arms sales and military and security aid. We’d see a significant boost in development assistance. We’d see the US government engaging much more with non governmental actors, with activists and community leaders, people in the region who are not part of these oppressive regimes; we’d see a totally different policy. It is sort of notable that the administration keeps talking about this. And I’ve been trying to figure out why they keep using this rhetoric, when you know, these are very, very smart people who Biden has selected for these key positions; national security adviser, Secretary of State, etc. They know that human rights are not at the center of US policy toward the Middle East in any country. So I think that it has something to do with kind of trying to create a narrative around what they want the US brand to be seen as across the globe, in the world. It’s not so much of a message, I think, to the authoritarian leaders in this region who maybe were, some of them were a bit apprehensive when Biden was elected, that he might be a lot tougher than Trump. And he certainly has pushed on these issues more than Trump has. But that’s such a low bar. I think that Biden and his team really want to create this narrative, push out this message of the US brand, globally, that in a way to not only distinguish Biden from Trump, but also to distinguish the United States from China.”