Does anyone seriously argue that the promotion of human rights never conflicts with our economic and national security interests? That we should always pursue human rights at the expense of those interests? Every administration in U.S. history has acted as though Tillerson is right on all of these points, and it is hard to imagine how they could have done otherwise.
It could be argued, I suppose, that uttering even such banal remarks could, in the subtle world of diplomacy, send the wrong signal. But Tillerson’s critics have not confined themselves to such a nuanced critique. And that critique would also be self-defeating, since it is those critics who have been loudest in communicating the message that the speech was an abandonment of human rights.
Tillerson is certainly open to criticism on human rights. His failure to meet with dissidents when he visited Russia is a black mark, for example. Advocates of human rights should judge the secretary of State based on his actual record, instead of inventing speeches he did not give.