The Uneasy Colossus: How Washington’s Domestic Realism and International Idealism Are at Loggerheads

While the United States spouts moral prescriptions and idealistic injunctions across the world, the recent trail of human rights violations revealed the unsightly underbelly of the empire. The contradictions are puzzling, as the self-proclaimed champion of international human rights overlooks the crumbling domestic order at home and fosters a “creeping” securitization of state apparatus, to the extent that citizens are conceived as a mere threat to be liquidated at the inkling of a smidgen of suspicion. 

In a trail of police violence incidents, a Bangladeshi-American has been murdered by US police in Massachusetts, triggering considerable backlash from the Bangladeshi community of United States. 

The contrast between the domestic order that persists in the United States and the international order it laboriously seeks to construct is mind-boggling. From the arguably grisly human rights violation in China to the security operations of the Rapid Actions Battalion (RAB), everything remains on the horizon of the U.S. geostrategic radar. To set right the global human rights situation, the U.S. deploys a mix of condemnation, veiled threats, and sullying images to chastise other states to abide by human rights. The didactic bent of the United States sits uneasily whereas the glaring violation of human rights plagues its domestic order.

Surprisingly, human rights violation in the United States is far from a novel issue, rather systemic police violence persisted withstanding occasional calls for police reform. 

The murderous violence inflicted on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the shooting of Jacob Blake sparked vehement protests in the United States demanding police accountability and curtailing the extent and scope of power that rest at the hand of police. 

In lieu of addressing the entrenched societal predicaments that inflame criminal activities, US jurisdictions squarely focus on aggressive policing especially to minority and impoverished communities, ensuing a cycle of police violence.


The violence inflicted by police has a racial dimension. The Washington Post database indicates that racial minorities are at the forefront of police violence. Black people are frequently subjected to myriad police violence e.g., arbitrary detention and arrests, harassment, non-lethal force, etc. 

With a view to fending off numerous criminal activities, US police had initiated a ‘securitization’ mission, where blunt force is deployed rather than recourse to legal procedures and societal actions. Such application of crude force is at odds with a civilized country, which not only proclaims to respect human rights but proselytizes these principles to other countries with ardent zeal. As the United States doesn’t address the creeping spike in human rights violations, these issues might fester sullying the global image of the United States. The moral ground the United States wields in terms of castigating other nations remains shaky and might contribute to the decline of the United States as a power owing to astounding contradictions that characterize its actions. 

The widening rupture between domestic actions and the international ideals of the United States is striking. As such, this reveals that, while the US promotes human rights principles across the world, idealistic preoccupation holds little sway, rather geostrategic calculation overrides. The promotion of human rights is pivoted on strategic grounds. When the US perceives a country as defiant, and when a county disavows complying with the US’s policy prescriptions, weapons of human rights are invariably unleashed to taint the image of the country at the global level. As such, human rights remain a potent strategic weapon in the toolbox of the United States. 

This explains the inconsistencies in terms of human rights advocacy in the United States. Although the US at times hobnobbed with the repulsive regimes of the Middle East despite the excesses of these countries, the US however condemned and slapped sanctions on countries that closely align with its principles. Underlying the narrative of “universal” human rights and idealistic euphemism – lies the crude interests that invariably shape the interests of the United States. The contradictions are palpable and such contradictory global actions might disenchant other countries. Such contradictions might erode US’s moral legitimacy as a proponent of human rights, since the domestic order of the United States shores up human rights abysmally. Rather than fortifying human rights across the world, the US needs to set right the glaring violence in its domestic frontier, which continues to sully the global image of the United States.

*Mehjabin Maliha Hossain is an international affairs researcher and pursuing her doctoral studies at National University of Singapore (NUS). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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