Ideal Illusions

How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights

by James Peck

Ideal Illusions

How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights

by James Peck

From a noted historian and foreign-policy analyst, a groundbreaking critique of the troubling symbiosis between Washington and the human rights movement

The United States has long been hailed as a powerful force for global human rights. Now, drawing on thousands of documents from the CIA, the National Security Council, the Pentagon, and development agencies, James Peck shows in blunt detail how Washington has shaped human rights into a potent ideological weapon for purposes having little to do with rights—and everything to do with furthering America’s global reach.

Using the words of Washington’s leaders when they are speaking among themselves, Peck tracks the rise of human rights from its dismissal in the cold war years as “fuzzy minded” to its calculated adoption, after the Vietnam War, as a rationale for American foreign engagement. He considers such milestones as the fight for Soviet dissidents, Tiananmen Square, and today’s war on terror, exposing in the process how the human rights movement has too often failed to challenge Washington’s strategies.

A gripping and elegant work of analysis, Ideal Illusions argues that the movement must break free from Washington if it is to develop a truly uncompromising critique of power in all its forms.

Praise for Ideal Illusions

Ideal Illusions forces us to confront a great contradiction: how the noble vision of human rights has been compromised and manipulated to serve the purposes of the national security state and divert attention from deep economic, political, and military pathologies. James Peck’s work, based on a rigorous examination of an enormous collection of official and archival documents, is essential, sobering, and eye-opening. ”

—John Dower, author of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

“This incisive and sophisticated analysis exposes the ‘hidden history that once again reveals just how tied into U.S. national security concerns the evolution of human rights attitudes has been.’ Ideal Illusions is a well-documented, impressive account and a timely warning to seek the interests that lie behind appealing rhetoric.”

—Noam Chomsky, author of Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy

“In this searing book, James Peck strips away the comforting illusion that, give or take a mistake or two, U.S. foreign policy for the past thirty years or more has been shaped by a dedication to the principles of human rights. He demonstrates how, on the contrary, successive administrations have captured the language of human rights and bent it to America’s purpose. In clear and compelling prose, Peck calls on the human rights community to understand the dangers of its reliance on American power—and on American citizens to address the contradictions between a genuine dedication to the rights of humanity and prevailing definitions of U.S. national interests.”

—Marilyn Young, author of The Vietnam Wars: 1945–1990

Ideal Illusions is both a devastating book and a deeply disturbing one. James Peck lays bare any lingering beliefs that human rights concerns seriously influence U.S. policy. Yet he goes further: showing how Washington has consciously and cynically manipulated the very concept of human rights to serve the interests of American power.”

—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War

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