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WikiLeaks Sheds Light on Paul Ryan’s Questionable Human Rights Stance
(Photo: Talk Radio News Service / Flickr)

WikiLeaks Sheds Light on Paul Ryan’s Questionable Human Rights Stance

(Photo: Talk Radio News Service / Flickr)

While Paul Ryan’s economic policy is widely known – at least what he publicly states of it – his foreign policy views are less prominent.

Most of what’s known about Ryan’s worldview stems from a 2009 interview with National Review, in which he blasted President Obama, who, he said, “is separating the interests of our country from human rights.”

“He believes in diplomacy at all costs, and his decisions have smacked of moral relativism,” Ryan said, whereas, “our country’s strategy should be grounded in what I call ‘first principles’ – the core natural rights and classical principles that have guided our country for centuries.”

The “principles that have guided our country for centuries” – namely the pursuit of resources and markets – have tended to lead to a grim collection of atrocities. It can only be assumed that Ryan, therefore, would somewhat resemble the last Republican VP in his foreign policy outlook – aggressive and hypocritical – if he and his running mate were to triumph this November.

But Ryan doesn’t have to wait to push a myopic and callous agenda. Thanks to diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks, we know that he already has. The “serious about deficits” House Budget Committee chair has been on a number of Congressional delegations (referred to in the cables as “CODELs”), enjoying junkets on the taxpayer’s dime to discuss worldly affairs with statesmen the world over. Because these were documented by foreign service officers, and leaked, allegedly, by Bradley Manning and published by Julian Assange, the public can have a glimpse of what sort of “first principles” Ryan has pushed while overseas.

On one trip, his delegation gave the Indian government a tip on a controversial issue that any Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)-compliant lobbyist would typically be paid a fortune for.

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According to a confidential cable, that CODEL advised Congress Party giant Sonia Gandhi in 2006 on how to lobby Congress on the issue of US-India nuclear technology cooperation: [Gandhi] was surprised to hear that the Representatives had not yet heard from Indian Americans in their constituencies on this issue and took on board the Congressmen’s suggestions for mobilizing action by Indian-Americans at the local constituency level…. Mrs. Gandhi seemed surprised to hear that existing efforts were not reaching the Representatives, who underscored the importance of receiving feedback from their constituents in their district offices, as opposed to Washington.

The CODEL – which featured Ryan, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) and current Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, then a Republican representative for Illinois – offered such advice despite controversy surrounding the issue: namely, the possibility of it fueling an arms race on the subcontinent.

But the issue goes beyond a subcontinental cold war. According to a recent Economic Times article about US-India nuclear cooperation: “US companies have been reluctant to get to work in India as they are seeking greater protection from liabilities in the event of a nuclear disaster … The issue is sensitive in India, where thousands died in 1984 in a leak from a US-owned pesticide factory in Bhopal.”

Ryan and his fellow delegates made no mention of Bhopal or how an arms race or a massive nuclear disaster involving an American company in India might affect the national security of both India and the United States. The leaked cable reports: “[T]he Representatives agreed that Congress would be able to overcome public concerns about non-proliferation. However, they urged the [Government of India] to address US economic concerns, including outsourcing, intellectual property rights, sanctity of contracts, and market access, to keep US public opinion of India positive, particularly during the Congressional campaign season.”

Those familiar with Ryan’s record may not be surprised to see doubts raised about his regard for human rights – particularly when considering his cozy relationship with big business and certain views he has already publicly expressed: in 2008, for example, he questioned the point of maintaining the embargo on Cuba while freely trading with China (not an unreasonable observation to make, considering the mass suffering caused by sanctions). But like a good establishment politician, Ryan had no qualms about voting for the embargo after 2007.

However, when it comes to human rights abuses that the military- industrial complex continually enables or overlooks, WikiLeaks cables show that Ryan appears content to march lockstep with the interests of big business, pushing not just trade relations with politically suspect countries, but accountability-free Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with countries that have appalling human rights records.

In another 2006 cable from US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine (three days after the meeting with Gandhi), Ryan acknowledged that human rights abuses in Vietnam are contentious in the context of a possible free trade agreement, but only, really, with respect to its political permissibility. In an address to the Vietnamese National Assembly, Ryan described “Human rights … particularly in the realms of religious freedom, Internet freedom and trafficking in persons” as the last of “three major challenges ahead for Vietnam as it faces a PNTR [permanent normal trade relations] vote in Congress.”

The cable elaborates on Ryan’s position: “Rep. Ryan said he appreciates [National Assembly] Chairman [Nguyen Van] An’s candor on the democracy of Vietnam’s economic system, but is concerned about the inherent contradiction between economic democracy and political centralization. This will be a contentious issue as Congress debates PNTR for Vietnam and each member tries to justify his/her position to his/her constituents.”

In other words, Ryan’s position on human rights and free trade seems to be that he considers the former an obstruction when trying to convince the electorate on the merit of the latter. Of course, this was the whole purpose of the trip, according to Hastert, who told the Vietnamese National Assembly that “international economic integration and economic development are good for mankind, and passing PNTR is the right thing to do.”

And although Ryan didn’t totally ignore human rights issues, he avoided mentioning workers’ rights, which, according to the US Embassy in Hanoi, still “continue to fall short of international standards in important areas” (PNTR with Vietnam was signed into law in December 2006). But why would Ryan single out workers’ rights abuses when he doesn’t appear overly concerned with human rights abuses in general. After all, workers’ rights injustices help keep people impoverished, and, therefore, eager to sell their labor at a low price.

Moreover, Ryan glossed over both worker and human rights when discussing free trade and economics with various Latin American officials.

In a December 2008 meeting with Chile’s then-acting President Edmundo Perez Yoma (then-President Michelle Bachelet was in Brazil), Ryan and Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-New York) and Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) “urged Chile to spread the message about its successful economic and democratic model throughout the region.” But neither Ryan nor the other delegates are on the record mentioning that the “success” of the economic model is hotly debated – namely by hundreds of thousands of student demonstrators at the moment – or that it was forced upon Chileans because the democratic model did not exist throughout CIA darling Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s more than 15-years-long military dictatorship from 1974 to 1991.

The next day in another meeting between the CODEL and other Chilean officials, de facto trade minister Carlos Furche even claimed that “poverty in Chile had been cut from 42% in 1990 to 13% in 2007, due in no small part to the U.S.-Chile FTA.” The CODEL members are not recorded as having pointed out that the period in question pertained largely to the immediate post-Pinochet era: Rep. Meeks responded, saying, “Chile could encourage passage of the Colombia FTA by making this kind of argument to members of the US Congress and throughout the region.”

But Colombia itself has a grisly human rights record – a fact that has come up in deliberations over the FTA – and records show that Ryan had been made well aware of this.

Another cable reveals he had been present at a meeting in Bogota just months prior, where he was told by Colombian union leaders that the deal could lead to “higher unemployment and weaker labor rights” in a country where “impunity related to violence against trade unionists” is common. Ryan made no mention of this on his sojourn – one clearly designed to push a one-sided view of a deal that hinders human rights (to be fair, President Obama has a similarly spotty record on this issue: he promoted the Colombia FTA and signed it into law last October).

Thus, Ryan’s so-called “first principles” are shambolic – the ploy of a hyperambitious power player. The WikiLeaks cables are hardly needed to call out his grandstanding – historical precedent already debunks his logic.

But what the cables do demonstrate is that we don’t have to wait for Rep. Ryan to enter the executive branch for him to push scandalous policy around the world. He’s been doing it for years.

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