On Richard Falk

This is not the first time that Richard Falk has said something dumb. But the timing of his latest missive is deeply unfortunate, and it is getting picked up on various outlets–mostly on the right side of the spectrum.

You can read his diatribe here. Short version is that he spins the Boston Marathon bombings as retribution for American global domination. Or something. Read it for yourself to see if you can figure out his point.

Falk is a longtime Princeton professor. Since March 2008, he has served as the “UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” He has one year left of his six year term.  And if this latest episode tells us anything, it’s that he is living proof of the Bush administration’s failed policy of hostile indifference to the UN Human Rights Council. 

At the time of his election, the USA was not a member of the Council. The Bush administration voted against creating it in 2005, and once it was operational, the Bush administration preferred to criticize it from the sidelines (mostly for being anti-Israel) rather than trying to shape its decisions. Falk’s election serves as a perfect example of the extent to which the Bush administration’s approach became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Obama administration made joining the Human Rights Council one of its centerpieces of its new policy of engagement. It ran for a seat and won election to the Council five months after taking office. Since then, the United States has used its unique position of influence to shape the outcomes of events at the Human Rights Council in ways it sees as advancing American interests and human rights. Had the Bush administration taken such an approach, chances are Richard Falk would never have been elected to this post in the first place.

L’affair Richard Falk should teach us that engagement works helps make make institutions like the Human Rights Council better, while a policy of blanket hostility backfires.