Balkinization  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ferguson and Foreign Relations

Mary L. Dudziak

My take on the international reaction to the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, is at Foreign Affairs this morning. Here's a snippet:
As the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri, unfolds, questions about the United States’ commitment to human rights are once more headlining news coverage around the world. The uncomfortable international spotlight on such domestic problems should not be surprising. American racial inequality regularly dominated foreign news coverage during the 1950s and 1960s. U.S. policymakers were eventually forced to respond, in part to protect America’s image abroad. As it reflects on how to handle the protests in Ferguson, the Obama administration would do well to consider the fact that, in previous decades, federal intervention was eventually needed to protect both civil rights and U.S. foreign relations.

The killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, by a police officer -- and the resulting protests -- have been front-page news in many countries. On August 20, Saudi Arabia’s Al Watan and the Kuwait Times published the same shocking photograph of an officer in riot gear pointing a rifle at a woman on the ground.... Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took to Twitter to criticize the U.S. human rights record, posting photos from Ferguson alongside historic images of racial segregation and using the hashtag #Ferguson....
In the body of the essay, I compare Ferguson with the civil rights crisis in Birmingham, Alabama in May 1963, which also featured brutal police suppression of civil rights demonstrators. Resolution of  the Birmingham crisis led to a desegregation plan on the local level, as well as, ultimately, a shift in civil rights politics that led ultimately led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But the Little Rock crisis in 1957-58 may be a better comparison, depending on whether there is follow-through. As I explain here, federal government involvement in Little Rock was more effecting at protecting the nation's image than in meaningfully desegregating schools. I conclude this way:
Then, as now, protecting rights serves U.S. international relations. Whether it also leads to real justice in Ferguson, however, depends on a sustained effort once the foreign press has gone home.

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