Nicolás Maduro is an illegitimate president. He retained office through a sham election and has abused his powers in the process of creating a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Leaders across the political spectrum in the United States and beyond have recognized Juan Guaidó as the true president of the nation in chaos.
One of the leaders recognizing Guaidó is President Donald Trump. President Trump and his administration have been consistent and forceful on the situation in Venezuela. Even before European countries sided with Guaidó, Vice President Pence delivered a message of support to the Venezuelan people, promising that the United States would stand with them “until Democracy is restored” and their “birthright of Libertad” is reclaimed. The Administration has taken a stand on the right side of history, choosing the oppressed over the autocrat, precious freedom over brutal tyranny.
For an administration that has been resoundingly criticized for a number of foreign policy missteps, Venezuela seems like an exception. The Trump Administration’s course of action has been the correct one. So, how worthy are they of our praise? The answer is complicated, but the reality is clear: if you are only concerned about human rights when it is politically expedient, then you aren’t actually concerned about human rights.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the dismembering of a journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and a war in Yemen that has killed so many innocent people that the United Nations can no longer keep an accurate count. However, President Trump has defended the Crown Prince at every turn.
Vladimir Putin has his political opponents imprisoned and killed, denies basic rights to minorities, and props up the Assad regime in Syria that gassed its own people. However, President Trump heaps praise on Putin and sides with him over the U.S. intelligence community.
In North Korea, Kim Jong Un tortures, murders, and starves his own people, yet President Trump has said he and Kim “fell in love.”
In short, President Trump does not care about human rights. His narrow focus on putting “America First” is a misguided mentality that reflects a misunderstanding about foreign policy. In his final book, The Restless Wave, John McCain wrote:
"Human rights advocacy isn’t naive idealism. It’s the truest kind of realism. Statesmen who think that all that really matters in international relations is how governments treat each other are wrong. The character of states can’t be separated from their conduct in the world. Governments that protect the rights of their citizens are more likely to play a peaceful, constructive role in world affairs. Governments that are unjust, that cheat, lie, steal, and use violence against their own people are more likely to do the same to other nations."
The universal application of a human rights framework to world affairs is not only morally just, it also advances the cause of American security. There is no American interest more sacred than defending our founding idea, that all Men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. President Trump has done that in Venezuela. Now, the administration must stand up for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in Saudi Arabia, Russia, North Korea, and everywhere else that freedom is threatened, now and always.
The views expressed above are solely the author's and are not endorsed by the Virginia Policy Review, The Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, or the University of Virginia. Although this organization has members who are University of Virginia students and may have University employees associated or engaged in its activities and affairs, the organization is not a part of or an agency of the University. It is a separate and independent organization which is responsible for and manages its own activities and affairs. The University does not direct, supervise or control the organization and is not responsible for the organization’s contracts, acts, or omissions.