02/24/2009 08:06 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Can Politicians Be Honest?

Secretary of State Clinton controversially just called for a redirection of US human rights policy toward China--We are now going to be honest. This caused great outrage and worry.

Clinton argued that our human rights goals are actually hindered by our antagonistic stance. In other words, the more we complain, the more they crack down. The more we take on airs, the more we foment nationalistic resentment. We can no longer ignore this reality. Instead, we should kill authoritarianism softly.

When someone says that we need to have an honest conversation, it's best to ask how long we've been dishonest with one another. Is Secretary of State Clinton's call for honesty an indictment of Bush II, Clinton I?

Regardless, what was this peaceful evolution thing about--the argument that we should commercially engage authoritarian governments because it was an effective means for promoting human rights and democracy? Did those saber-rattling speeches get in the way of our commercial plans and thus our human rights hopes? Should we just have been quieter and let trade to the trick?

A reporter once asked Malcolm X about his next tactical move. Malcolm X succinctly said: 'I would not say how we plan. I would not say publicly how I plan to do anything.' Fair enough.

In fact, the self-proclaimed realists--those that believe not only in a secret cabal running foreign policy but also that they're a part of it--argue that this is the brilliance of Clinton's remarks. Honesty here is a tactical maneuver used to advance a closely-held plan.

In fact, I suspect human rights groups and others that assess honesty by the yardstick of practice--by those who experience human rights in China--are rightly worried because the stakes are so high. This is assuredly something they share with our Secretary of State.