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The Soviet Standard Returns

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
August 26, 2009
National Review


At the height of the Cold War, when Ronald Reagan was president, the Soviets and their allies and satellites did not shirk human-rights debates with the West. They had their arguments ready. When American officials denounced the lack of freedom of speech or press or religion, or the absence of free elections, they did not whimper. Their replies went something like this: "It's important to look at human rights more broadly than it has been defined. Human rights are also the right to a good job and shelter over your head and a chance to send your kids to school and get health care when your wife is pregnant. It's a much broader agenda. Too often it has gotten narrowed to our detriment."

No one would be surprised to hear that such words were spoken by Mikhail Suslov, the long-time ideological chief of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, or by Khrushchev or Brezhnev, or by Castro or Ceaucescu, or by any other chieftain from the "socialist countries." But that quote actually comes from Secretary of State Clinton, in an interview this month with the Wall Street Journal. It is an astonishing revival of the old Soviet line, now taken up by an American official.

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