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State Department Goes Tribal – And Not in a Good Way

When a group of people are accused of being racist and unconcerned about democracy, there are few things that validate such criticisms quite like expressing alarm over the Chinese Communist regime because it “is not Caucasian.” Yet that’s exactly what State Department policy planning director Kiron Skinner said in a conference covered by the Washington Examiner this week.

Oh, and it gets worse:

Skinner suggested that human rights arguments might not be as useful against China as they were against the Soviet Union, which was weakened by a 1975 agreement that allowed Soviet dissidents to cooperate indirectly with Western powers to advocate for “the rights of emigration and religious freedom,” according to the State Department.

“It was a really important Western concept that opened the door really to undermine the Soviet Union, a totalitarian state, on human rights principles,” she said. “That’s not really possible with China.”

Where to begin?

For starters, the notion on human rights is purely a “Western concept” would come as a great shock to dissidents in mainland China, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and millions of voters on Taiwan. They challenge the Chinese Communist Party’s rule on that very concept. The State Department’s think tank just announced that all of those people are no longer of any interest to Washington. Don’t even get me started on the democracies of Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, etc.

Secondly, it grants “Western” tyrants far too much leeway, such as the “global survivor” regime in Moscow. It is exactly that effort to define Putin’s deviancy down that leads so many to worry about Donald Trump’s views toward Vladimir Putin – or tyrants in general, as Noah Smith noted on his Twitter feed:

Of course, the end result of this kind of argument is a tacit pact where a bunch of countries agree to oppress their own marginalized groups without criticizing each other for it. Which is probably the kind of world Trump & co. would like.

Trump defenders will insist this isn’t true, but the man they defend has spoken up for tyrants from Sisi to Xi. The pattern is obvious – and now it’s permeating the staff.

Together, though, these problems combine to reveal the largest: a shift away from democracy and towards global tribalism in US foreign policy (and yes, that’s a euphemism). As I noted in the beginning, this Administration has left many wondering where it really stands on white supremacy. Skinner’s comments seem tailor-made to exacerbate those concerns.

The forces of authoritarianism are on the rise again. Putin slices up parts of Ukraine in the west; Xi muscles on democracies in the east; and the Trump Administration places less focus on their tyrannies than on the color of the tyrant’s skin…

…and they said being a conservative Democrat would be hard.