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As the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter entered office confident in his human rights policy and his ability to reinvigorate the moral character of the United States. He presented an idealistic approach to foreign policy in which human rights would be highly valued within the administration’s agenda. As a result of this approach, Carter presented a vision of international relations, led by the U.S., and intended to guide the world in recognizing and adhering to the basic human rights deserved by all peoples. Unfortunately, Carter’s human rights initiative floundered in situations in which the pragmatism of American government policies favored self-interest and regrettably succumbed to external pressures.

This paper addresses one such instance, encouraging normalization of relations with China over the application of human rights rhetoric in Cambodia, and discusses the implications of the disparity between the rhetoric and reality of human rights policy. It also examines the way in which idealistic thought and rhetoric do not easily translate into action, particularly within the realistic and pragmatic demands of foreign policy. The theory of human rights creates a logical and cohesive framework that encourages individual freedom and equality; however, its application proves to be much more nuanced, suffering from discordant interpretations and vagueness. These are obstacles that complicate human rights discussions and further separate the rhetoric from the reality, and led to the failure of President Carter’s attempt to reconcile human rights and foreign policy.


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18 Jul 2022
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  • Subject
    • History, Anthropology, & Philosophy

  • Institution
    • Dahlonega

  • Event location
    • Library Room 382; Special Collections

  • Event date
    • 1 April 2014

  • Date submitted

    18 July 2022

  • Additional information
    • Acknowledgements:

      Dr. Christopher Jespersen