What happens in other countries is important to U.S. media when they can claim that the news matters to U.S. interests. So it was not altogether surprising to see the March 8 headline in the New York Times, “Leader of Vote Count in Kenya Faces U.S. With Tough Choices.”
The “tough choice” is apparently that the candidate in the lead, Uhuru Kenyatta, has a terrible human rights record. As correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman put it in his lead, he
has been charged with heinous crimes, accused of using a vast fortune to bankroll death squads that slaughtered women and children.
Gettleman points out that Kenyatta denies the charges, adding, “Many analysts say the case is rather weak.”
So what, then, is the tough choice facing the United States? To Gettleman, it’s this:
Does the United States put a premium on its commitment to justice and ending impunity–as it has emphasized across the continent–and distance itself from Mr. Kenyatta should he clinch this election?
Or would that put at risk all the other strategic American interests vested in Kenya, a vital ally in a volatile region and a crucial hub for everything from billion-dollar health programs and American corporations to spying on agents of Al-Qaeda?
For this to make any sense, you’d have to believe that the first concern is, well, a concern at all–that the United States really has, “across the continent,” shown a commitment to justice and human rights.
Governments like to say they’re concerned about such things, but the record doesn’t show much evidence of this. The United States continues to maintain friendly ties with repressive dictators like Teodoro Obiang of Equitorial Guinea (a “good friend,” said former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice). The United States has supported several other African dictators; the Arab Spring uprisings removed from power two U.S.-backed African dictators, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali of Tunisia.
And then there’s also Rwandan President Paul Kagame, accused of supporting brutal rebels in Congo. The list could probably continue, but you get the idea.
So we can safely reject the notion that the United States has any sort of continent-wide commitment to human rights. That leaves option No. 2: U.S. elite interests.
It would probably be more honest to cover U.S. foreign policy as if these were the overriding concerns. But that wouldn’t be very flattering.
UPDATE: Jeffrey Gettleman wrote a very similar article about how support for Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi illustrated the “balance” between U.S. interests and its “commitment to promoting democracy.” See FAIR Blog, 8/22/12.