The United States has, over the past century, been a leading voice on the international stage on a variety of issues. We helped establish the post-WWII international order, led advocacy for human rights, and have sought to promote democratic values when possible. Of course, the US has at times also supported dictators and bad actors, but by and large we were able to establish a reputation as a reliable ally and promoter of democratic values that aims to improve the lives of all human beings, not just Americans.
Part of the way we were able to establish this reputation and perform much of the important work that we as a people felt obligated to perform was by engaging the international community as often as possible. Obviously, the US is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, but we’ve also participated in (and led) various military alliances, economic pacts, and cultural exchange programs, which were all intended to facilitate cross-cultural communication and build trust so that potential conflicts could be solved through diplomacy instead of war.
Unfortunately, the current administration seems determined to turn inward and diminish the role we created for ourselves from nearly seventy years of hard work as an international leader on a variety of public policy issues.
President Trump has led the way in removing the US from economic pacts (the Trans-Pacific Partnership), environmental agreements (the Paris Agreement), denuclearization agreements (the Iran deal), and governmental bodies dedicated to promoting human rights (the UN Human Rights Council).
Obviously, none of these deals or international bodies are perfect, and concerns held by both conservatives and liberals about these pacts and agreements should be addressed. But rather than attempting to engage the international community to discuss legitimate grievances with such agreements, the administration has chosen to shut the door on them entirely and retreat inward. The administration has even gone as far as to antagonize our allies who remain in some of these deals, as well as attacking non-governmental organizations that promote human rights and oppose American withdrawal from international agreements.
The US ambassador to the UN, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, even sent a letter to our international affiliate, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, condemning the IHEU’s work to promote the Human Rights Council and keep the US as a member of it. In her letter, Haley states: “It is unfortunate that you sought to undermine our attempts to improve the Human Rights Council. You put yourself on the side of Russia and China, and opposite the United States… we encourage you to play a constructive role on behalf of human rights, rather than the deconstructive one you played in this instance.”
As someone who has worked regularly with the courageous staff at IHEU, this could not be further from the truth, and signifies that the administration would rather flee into isolationism than engage with allies about areas of disagreement. Obviously, the IHEU is a leading advocate of human rights; it publishes reports on religious freedom rights for nontheists while also maintaining extensive websites that catalogue human rights abuses by countries like Russia and China.
In the past internationalists have criticized the United States for not joining the International Criminal Court or other international forums and pushed for our government to become even more engaged on the international stage by participating in new international bodies. But at this point, the world and many American citizens would be satisfied if our government would at the very least stop leaving international bodies and agreements and reestablished our place as a leader in the international community.