Freedom On Fire

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As the chief human rights official of the Clinton Administration, John Shattuck faced far-flung challenges. Disasters were exploding simultaneously--genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia, murder and atrocities in Haiti, repression in China, brutal ethnic wars, and failed states in other parts of the world. But America was mired in conflicting priorities and was reluctant to act. What were Shattuck and his allies to do?

This is the story of their struggle inside the U.S. government over how to respond. Shattuck tells what was tried and what was learned as he and other human rights hawks worked to change the Clinton Administration's human rights policy from disengagement to saving lives and bringing war criminals to justice. He records his frustrations and disappointments, as well as the successes achieved in moving human rights to the center of U.S. foreign policy.

Shattuck was at the heart of the action. He was the first official to interview the survivors of Srebrenica. He confronted Milosevic in Belgrade. He was a key player in bringing the leaders of genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda to justice. He pushed from the inside for an American response to the crisis of the Haitian boat people. He pressed for the release of political prisoners in China. His book is both an insider's account and a detailed prescription for preventing such wars in the future.

Shattuck criticizes the Bush Administration's approach, which he says undermines human rights at home and around the world. He argues that human rights wars are breeding grounds for terrorism. Freedom on Fire describes the shifting challenges of global leadership in a world of explosive hatreds and deepening inequalities.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times

Shattuck deserves some credit for helping to bring [about longer U.S. involvement in Bosnia]. At real risk to himself, he journeyed to Bosnia in 1995 to interview Muslim victims of Serbian 'ethnic cleansing.' He was one of the first to report on the massacre at Srebrenica, which finally galvanized an apathetic United States government into imposing a peace settlement after four years of fighting that left more than 200,000 dead ... [The] reader is...left admiring Shattuck's willingness to fight for his ideals.
— Max Boot

Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights

What he has provided us is a quite readable account of the travails of a highly placed US official on behalf of human rights.
— Peter R. Baehr

Daniel Schorr
This is an inspiring report from the front lines of the worldwide battle for human rights. Unsparing of those in government who failed to measure up to human rights emergencies, John Shattuck tells a grim story the way it, unfortunately, is. This is also - rare among do-good books - masterfully written and easy to read.
Anthony Lewis
John Shattuck has given us a gripping account of how American politicians and diplomats act-or as often refuse to act-when people are slaughtered for their race, their religion, or their politics. His stories from inside the machine dramatize the hard questions: When should we intervene? Is Iraq the same as Bosnia? Is concern for human rights at odds with national security? His insights are vitally important.
Sissela Bok
This book deserves to be widely read and debated. John Shattuck weaves together an engrossing account of a career in the service of human rights, an illuminating critique of US responses to crises such as those in Rwanda, Haiti, and Bosnia, and thoughtful proposals for policies to combat human rights abuses abroad and at home.
Mary Robinson
This principled and sobering account by an insider of U.S. experience in addressing human rights violations in the difficult contexts of Rwanda, Haiti, the Balkans and China should be compulsory reading for policy makers and commentators in the aftermath of a war on Iraq, which the U.S. administration has argued was justified on human rights grounds.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy
John Shattuck's outstanding volume on human rights is a gift to the nation and must reading for every American who cares about our ideals and security in today's changing world. Shattuck vividly describes key achievements and setbacks for U.S. human rights policy in the past decade. He draws timely lessons for the future, and makes painfully clear that when violations of human rights are not addressed effectively, terrorism thrives.
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke
In that complicated decade after the end of the Cold War and before 9-11, when most Americans wanted to disengage from the world, John Shattuck stood tall for a foreign policy that would advance our national security interests by promoting our values and the cause of human rights overseas. As a close colleague, I can attest to the significance of his achievement, which he recounts vividly in this invaluable look at how policy is forged in the crucible of Washington's cut-throat politics.
New York Times - Max Boot
Shattuck deserves some credit for helping to bring [about longer U.S. involvement in Bosnia]. At real risk to himself, he journeyed to Bosnia in 1995 to interview Muslim victims of Serbian 'ethnic cleansing.' He was one of the first to report on the massacre at Srebrenica, which finally galvanized an apathetic United States government into imposing a peace settlement after four years of fighting that left more than 200,000 dead ... [The] reader is...left admiring Shattuck's willingness to fight for his ideals.
Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights - Peter R. Baehr
What he has provided us is a quite readable account of the travails of a highly placed US official on behalf of human rights.
Publishers Weekly
A self-described "human rights hawk," Shattuck has had a three-decade career including a term with Amnesty International and culminating in a stint as chief human rights official in the Clinton Administration from 1993 to 1998. Shattuck's years of experience give impact and insight to his analysis of a post-Cold War environment that restricted U.S. intervention in human rights catastrophes that cost as many as five million lives. Bureaucratic infighting and public support (or its lack) were, he argues, exacerbated by a "Somalia syndrome," making the administration unwilling to risk the domestic fallout from further loss of lives. Shattuck spent his government career trying to overcome that structure of obstacles with at best mixed success. The strength of the book is its four case studies. Rwanda, according to Shattuck, was a genocide that might have been prevented. In Bosnia, eventual U.S. intervention did break a decade-long cycle of killing. In Haiti the U.S. succeeded in building an international coalition to step in before human rights abuses became catastrophic. And in China, "politics as usual" left human rights issues trampled in the dust. Shattuck combines morality and pragmatism, arguing that even before September 11, the costs to the U.S. of not intervening quickly and decisively in developing human rights crises outweighed the advantages of remaining on the sidelines. Without assistance, states collapse, and failed states become centers of disorder and loci of terrorism. Shattuck correspondingly calls for a redefinition of international security, based on early warning of human rights crises followed by preventive measures, and, where necessary, direct intervention, including military force. Recent events in Iraq will factor into readers' weighing of Shattuck's argument. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Shattuck, a former assistant secretary of state and self-described "human rights hawk," draws on his experiences in the Clinton administrations to argue forcefully and persuasively that the United States must work with other nations to fight terror decisively whenever and wherever it emerges. He recounts his role in failing to prevent the genocide in Rwanda just after the U.S. fiasco in Somalia, and he strongly criticizes U.S. reluctance to intervene as well as French complicity in protecting the Hutu perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsis. He also discusses how the United States was finally persuaded to intervene militarily in Haiti and shows that the partial success in Haiti affected Clinton's willingness to take decisive action in Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor. Against these "successes," he contrasts Clinton's decision to give China "Most Favored Nation" status without forcing it to institute substantial political reform. Shattuck ends his book by postulating "strategies for peace" based on prevention of terror through diplomatic means, measured intervention against terror, principles of justice, and building peace by helping to build a nation. A clear and vivid account of how U.S. foreign policy failed to fight terror and repression in the 1990s and what it augurs.-Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674018556
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2005
  • Pages: 404
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

John Shattuck served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor from 1993 to 1998, and as U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic from 1998 to 2000. Currently, he is Chief Executive Officer of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston.
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Table of Contents


1. Rwanda: The Genocide That Might Have Been Prevented

2. Rwanda: The Struggle for Justice

3. Haiti: A Tale of Two Presidents

4. Bosnia: The Pariah Problem

5. Bosnia: Facing Reality

6. Bosnia and Kosovo: Breaking the Cycle

7. The China Syndrome

8. China: Collision Course

9. Strategies for Peace


State Department Organizational Chart




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