CJ Werleman explores why reports of Donald Trump’s support for China’s Uyghur Muslim camps is not surprising given the gap between the US’ rhetoric and reality on it being the ‘policeman of the world’

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After requesting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s interference in this year’s Presidential Election, US President Donald Trump expressed approval for China’s network of Muslim concentration camps in Xinjiang, according to claims made by former American Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, in his book The Room Where it Happened.

“According to our interpreter,” writes Bolton, “Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.”

This is the leader of the free world allegedly expressing unequivocal support for the most heinous crime against humanity: ethnic cleansing – the cultural genocide of 13 million Muslims – a crime tantamount to that committed by the Nazis against the Jewish people.

While we should be deeply disturbed by the President’s unmitigated endorsement of a UN Security Council colleague’s systematic erasure of a religious-ethnic minority, we should not be surprised, given the US has established a notable track record in doing nothing to prevent genocide.

It has somehow earned a reputation for being the ‘world’s police force’ – despite little in its history to support such an anointment. Earlier this month, the President told West Point cadet graduates that “we are not the policeman of the world”, perhaps the most honest thing the country’s most morally corrupt and craven President has ever said.

Like all powerful states, the US uses its military and economic power only to advance its strategic and national interests. Stopping genocide has never been a part of that calculus, which explains why it does little or nothing prevent state-backed mass killings of religious, ethnic, racial and cultural minorities. 

Four years after 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered by government-backed Hutu extremists in Rwanda in 1994, President Bill Clinton defended his refusal to intervene by falsely claiming that he didn’t “fully appreciate the depth and speed with which [Rwandans] were being engulfed by this unimaginable horror”.

Classified documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act, however, demonstrate that Clinton had been warned of a planned “final solution to eliminate all Tutsis” long before the slaughter reached its zenith, but deliberately chose to ignore it because he assessed Rwanda, a resource poor African country, to be of no strategic value.

Similarly, when Serbian forces began killing Muslims in Bosnia in the early 1990s, Clinton chose a detachment strategy of sitting on the sidelines in the belief that US voters cared little for Muslims living on the far edge of Europe, and that a military intervention – or dead American soldiers – would cost him re-election in 1996. He was dragged into intervening only when revelations regarding the genocide at Srebrenica in 1995 made non-intervention politically unsustainable.

In more recent times, the US has done nothing to stop genocide in Sudan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Syria. It has even mattered not when genocidal regimes have crossed US declared “red lines”, as evident when both Presidents Barack Obama and Trump chose to bomb empty runways in retaliation against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Time and time again, the US has made itself a bystander to genocide.

According to former US Ambassador Samantha Power – whose book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide helped give birth to the international law known as ‘Responsibility to Protect’ – the United States’ reluctance to stop genocide can be explained by the organisation of the country’s political system and lack of “political will”.

“The causal chain [for inaction], though frustrating, is reasonably straightforward,” observes Chaim Kaufmann in a 2002 article for Foreign Affairs. “The rest of the world does not act [to stop genocide] because the United States does not act. The United States does not act, in turn, because public support for humanitarian intervention is diffuse and rarely mobilised.

“Absent clear demonstrations that the public supports intervention, the military is unwilling. Partly because of the military’s position, the political right is opposed. Presidents are cautious and believe that pushing for action cannot benefit them politically but can only cost them. The result is that humanitarian disasters have a hard time getting on an administration’s agenda, let alone generating momentum for action.”

According to Power, US administrations are reluctant to use the term “genocide”, even when it is plainly evident that genocide is taking place, out of fear that doing so will create public support for intervention, which presidents fear will cost them the Oval Office. 

Clinton didn’t describe the mass murder of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica as “genocide” until 1999 – a full four years after it took place and at the very end of his presidency.

We should be mortified by Trump’s expressed support for China’s cultural genocide of its ethnic Uyghur minority in what was once East Turkestan, but we should not pretend that the US would do anything meaningful to stop it under a different president or at a different time. 

The US is most definitely not the “policeman of the world” and it has never pretended or wanted to be. Moral posturing has only ever been a means to project its diplomatic power.


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