Last December, Politico published a leaked memo by State Department senior aide Brian Hook, on the importance of realism in U.S. foreign policy. Extensively citing speeches of President Ronald Reagan, Hook argues that instead of seeking to impose human rights, democracy, and liberal values, the United States should lead by example and incentivize good behavior.
This return to pragmatism breaks with the Obama years’ rigid ideological dogmatism about human rights and clearly rattled the bureaucrats who leaked the memo. But his arguments cannot be easily shoved aside. Promoting a rigid leftist agenda internationally is a form of social engineering.
It is not only politically fraught, it is an ethereal goal that cannot be quantified. And it demands untold expenditures for unforeseeable amounts of time without any way of measuring the effects.
Nowhere is the obtuseness of this idealistic approach more evident than in U.S. promotion of LGBT policies abroad. Without applying any moral calculus, a realist approach to foreign affairs requires accepting that LGBT rights likely will never be accepted by all the people of the world, no matter how many millions of dollars we pour into foreign LGBT organizations.
It is difficult to fathom U.S. expenditures significantly changing minds in Africa and Asia about homosexual marriage or LGBT legal preferences. But even aside from pragmatic concerns, promoting LGBT preferences abroad is more likely to cause backlash against the very people it is intended to help, besides harming our standing in the world, as recent events show.
The Human Costs of the LGBT Political Pressure
Regardless of where you stand on LGBT issues, everyone agrees human beings should be protected from violence and unjust discrimination, including when they subjectively identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise. But international coercion from the United States on LGBT issues can only lead to more violence and unjust discrimination.
Sadly, extreme LGBT ideologues do not accept reality. As the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case shows, their goal, domestically and globally, is to impose social acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism even on those unwilling to celebrate it. Inevitably, they are running into some roadblocks.
The Human Rights Campaign is enraged that Egypt may enact a law that punishes waving the rainbow flag or otherwise promoting LGBT behavior. Yet Egypt is just the latest example in a global streak of laws and enforcement actions to chastise sodomy, homosexual lewdness, and LGBT advocacy, as the Washington Post reported last fall. African countries, Russia and ex-Soviet nations, as well as Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and other Asian nations with significant Muslim populations, have all responded to increased pressure about LGBT policies during the Obama administration with punitive laws, policies to protect children from homosexual propaganda, and even police crackdowns on LGBT establishments and social circles.
Although socially traditional, most of the countries where the backlash is hardest were never hotbeds of anti-gay sentiment, or especially dangerous for individuals who led an LGBT double life. They became so as a result of the relentless international pressure on LGBT issues from the U.S. State Department during the Obama administration, United Nations (UN) bureaucrats, the European Union, huge corporations, and LGBT groups backed by billionaires and western governments.
Some LGBT advocates want to blame this crackdown on U.S. evangelicals who “export homophobia.” But this is simply false. Not only is U.S. evangelical influence abroad grossly exaggerated, the backlash is visceral and from the grassroots. In Africa, it is immediate, spontaneous, and self-sustaining. The LGBT issue is highly politicized instantly, as Tanzania’s recent “crackdown” arrests of gay people show. And the reaction was immediately severe even in countries that are generally quite tolerant of LGTB lifestyles, as in Latin America.
This agenda antagonizes populations with traditional social norms and creates dangers for individuals who identify as LGBT. In some cases, U.N. and U.S. support for advocates makes them a target.
Local Advocates Say Western Pressure Is Dangerous
Indeed, all along, LGBT advocates in Africa and Asia denounced international pressure for LGBT policies as dangerous to the very people these policies are intended to protect. A comprehensive New York Times report on the backlash in Africa quoted LGBT-identified individuals saying “U.S. support is making matters worse.” But such warnings have fallen on deaf ears.
Indeed, the Maccabean reaction aggressive LGBT advocacy elicits in these countries was entirely foreseeable, as cooler heads realized during the Bush presidency, when U.S. LGBT diplomacy was prudently overshadowed by a broader concern for civil and political freedom.
If individuals who identify as LGBT in Egypt end up in prison or dead as a result of this backlash, LGBT advocates have only themselves to blame. Did LGBT activists really think the entire world would simply acquiesce to their demands? Incredibly, the answer seems to be yes.
The LGBT agenda is “unstoppable,” unrealistic activists like to say. They actually believe all of the roughly 70 countries that still punish sodomy will at some point embrace and promote homoerotic propaganda. They even seem to believe all countries will legally recognize homosexual unions. They should know better.
Christianity and Islam, and even Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism to some extent, just to name the most populous of world religions, do not look upon homosexuality favorably and are unlikely to ever change on this matter, even if popular western culture seeks to undermine them. Just this week Pope Francis condemned “ideological colonialism” in his annual speech to ambassadors to the Holy See from all around the world. Everyone understood this as criticism of the United States and Europe promoting LGBT ideology abroad.
Not all Is Well at Foggy Bottom
Under Obama’s presidency, LGBT policies seemed to became the highest priority of the U.S. State Department. We have pressured countries to stop opposing LGBT policies at the United Nations. We have boasted of twisting diplomats’ arms to get them to back off defending their laws and social norms, sacrificing other U.S. foreign policy priorities and further widening the democratic deficit at the UN.
We’ve poured millions of dollars into organizations that promote LGBT policies abroad. We have proudly flown the rainbow flag and hosted pride events in our embassies all around the world, even in countries where it is considered offensive. Our ambassadors parade in LGBT pride events, causing consternation and offense.
We have stood silently by as UN bureaucrats and legal experts misrepresent and lie about international law. They say it protects unfettered sexual autonomy in the same way it protects religious freedom. In fact, international law only protects sexual autonomy in the context of the right to marry and found a family. Sodomy is simply not protected by international law, and will likely never be, regardless of what UN bureaucrats say.
Most egregiously, during the Obama years the United States asked repeatedly to scrap the part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights about the family as “natural and fundamental group unit of society” in U.N. documents. The reason is simple. Under this standard, international law does not recognize homosexual relations as capable of constituting a family.
Although LGBT advocacy has lessened under the Trump administration, the United States has yet to officially change position on most of these matters. Those pushing this agenda are deeply embedded in the U.S. State Department and still carrying the momentum of the Obama years, dictating many U.S. positions in international negotiations.
Just last summer, the United States voted against a Human Rights Council resolution on the role the family plays in assisting children who are disabled, because it included the language from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The U.S. Missions to the UN in both Geneva and New York have made several unguarded statements in support of the LGBT agenda at the United Nations.
The United States is still part of the “LGBT Core Group” at the United Nations—a group of two dozen states committed to keeping LGBT issues on the UN agenda. On December 10, to mark International Human Rights Day, the State Department once again promoted transgenderism as a marquee human rights issue.
The Institutional Costs of LGBT Advocacy
Until fairly recently, LGBT advocacy from western governments was sporadic. Although there have been attempts since the 1990s to create a protected category of “sexual orientation” alongside sex, race, and religion at the United Nations, they never went far. To this day the only UN General Assembly resolution that includes “sexual orientation and gender identity” is a resolution on extrajudicial killings. Even though it is hardly something states want to be associated with, 60 countries voted against including this terminology in 2016.
During the Obama administration, especially in the final two years, LGBT issues became more public and politically divisive at the United Nations and in capitals around the world. Delegates routinely complained about the relentless LGBT pressure from the Obama administration.
Now, LGBT policies are increasingly no longer only addressed behind closed doors in small rooms at Foggy Bottom and Turtle Bay. They are debated in UN conference rooms. Politicians and UN diplomats are held accountable for their positions. It should have been self-evident that once the LGBT issue came out it would be weaponized politically. The backlash we have seen last year alone, both domestically and internationally, is highly indicative that countries are treating this as an important political issue.
This global politicization makes it impossible and entirely unrealistic to hope that continuing to thrust the issue either bilaterally or at the United Nations will lead to a pleasant resolution. It will only contribute further erosion of goodwill. It will also result in more acrimony between UN member states and undermine international law. It will also lead to more antipathy, violence, and unjust discrimination against individuals who identify as LGBT.
Already, the issue has polarized the UN system like never before. Last year, the Human Rights Council established the first UN post with a mandate to address violence and discrimination on “sexual orientation and gender identity.” That mandate was contested all the way to a very close vote in the General Assembly, despite an herculean effort of the Obama administration to get countries to not show up to vote according to their own laws. Nearly half the General Assembly subsequently declared it does not consider the mandate legitimate.
This is a very bad precedent. This acrimony is bad for the United Nations and bad for human rights. It is hard enough to hold UN member states accountable for established human rights obligations. Playing fast and loose with international human rights to elevate unfettered sexual autonomy as a protected human rights category hardly helps. If UN experts and a few powerful nations can manufacture, through international pressure, new human rights obligations that countries never agreed to, it simply gives bad actors a further reason to check out of human rights altogether.
It is Time to Cut Our Losses and Get Out
The State Department should not be peddling LGBT fantasies as legitimate foreign policy. It should severely dial back the LGBT pressure and reset on more attainable and less controversial goals. All-out LGBT diplomacy was always a losing proposition. It should have never happened. Cleaning up this mess will require significant changes.
Ultimately, promoting LGBT rights internationally is a social engineering feat the likes of which has never been seen. It is not feasible politically, culturally, or fiscally. Regardless of how one feels about Obergefell or Masterpiece Cakeshop, it is bad foreign policy to expect the rest of the world to submit to Justice Kennedy’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution as if it were binding international law.
Holding the entire world hostage until we get international recognition of homosexual relations is not only pointless because such recognition is unlikely to ever happen, it is not endearing the United States to the rest of the world, including countries we need as allies. The U.S. State Department should be pragmatic. We need to cut our losses and bail out of this global LGBT fiasco before more people get hurt.