One of the reasons the American public holds unelected government officials in such low esteem is that they are never held accountable for their failures. Presidents and cabinet officials could send a strong message of accountability if they held senior appointees responsible for their performance. President Barack Obama should use this weekend’s U.N. failure to show Americans and Arabs alike that it is unacceptable to stand idly by while 6,500 Syrians are killed by their government. Obama should ask for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice’s resignation and replace her with someone tougher and more effective. If she won’t voluntarily resign then she should be fired.
The case against Susan Rice has been building over the last few years. This weekend’s embarrassing failure on a Syria resolution was the latest and last straw. Her diplomatic failures and silence have given the United States a weak representation at the United Nations.
Next month marks the anniversary of the Syrian uprising. But Rice, as she has on many issues, has ignored Syria’s growing problems for too long. Rather than speaking out immediately when the violence started, she stayed silent. Rather than calling for action, she did nothing. Russia and China saw Rice’s passivity as a sign that Syrian President Assad’s removal wasn’t a priority. By the time Rice started pressuring Security Council members to confront the growing violence and death, it was too late. Once a draft resolution condemning Syria was introduced, Rice was too quick to negotiate changes that weakened it without insisting on a date for the Security Council to vote. Her constant agreement to changes seemed desperate. The frantic and late maneuvering left the United States at the mercy of Russia and China, who vetoed even the watered down measure.
On her post-veto media tour, however, Rice sought to blame Russia for not listening to the United States or other western governments rather than acknowledge her failed diplomatic skills – an ironic spin given that Rice and team Obama created this new Russian resolve when they naively and dramatically called for a re-set to our relationship with Russia. The reset Rice championed and spoke affectionately about has not only failed to deliver support for U.S. national security policies but it has also exposed the dangers of an inexperienced team’s strategy of personal diplomacy.
This continues Rice’s pattern of failing at her own stated goals. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Susan Rice talked very openly about restoring America’s leadership at the United Nations and often derided President George W. Bush for acting without U.N. backing. Rice cheerfully exclaimed that, unlike Bush, Barack Obama would engage in active diplomacy even with countries considered our enemies. Rice was very critical of the U.S.’ reputation at the U.N. and vowed to build better relationships with every country. In her current stump speech Rice claims that her goal has been accomplished, “We’ve repaired frayed relations with countries around the world. We’ve ended needless American isolation on a wide range of issues. And as a consequence, we’ve gotten strong cooperation on things that matter most to our national security interest.”
This past weekend shows just how disastrous Rice’s strategy has been.
Rice has been silent on important issues and ineffective when she does engage. She skipped Security Council meetings when Israel needed defending and even failed to show up for the emergency session on the Gaza Flotilla incident. Rice didn’t even show up for the first two emergency Security Council meetings on the unfolding Arab revolution last year. Rice stayed silent when Iran was elected to the U.N. women’s committee, she didn’t call out Libya when it was elected to the Human Rights Council, she was absent from the Haiti crisis meeting and was a no-show for the last open meeting scheduled before the planned U.N. vote to recognize Palestinian statehood. When she actually shows up, she is a miserable failure.
Take the crucial issue of Iran. Rice spent the last several years undermining and grumbling about the Bush Administration’s increasingly tough measures but has only been able to pass one resolution of her own – compared with the Bush team’s five. Rice’s one and only Iran resolution was 22 months ago. And it passed with just 12 votes of support – the least support we have ever seen for a Security Council sanctions resolution on Iran. In fact, Susan Rice lost more support with her one resolution than the previous five Iran resolutions combined.
In another example, Rice secretly negotiated with the Arabs on acceptable language for a possible U.N. resolution to condemn Israel’s settlement activity. Rice’s engagement sent a strong message that making a new policy, rather than encouraging the two sides to negotiate directly, may not garner an automatic U.S. veto. In February of 2011, the U.S. abruptly changed tactics on the Arabs and vetoed a U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements. The Palestinians were justifiably furious with Rice. After all, they had just spent weeks going back and forth with her on acceptable language to make Israeli settlement activity a violation of international law — something previous U.S. Administrations had bluntly and immediately threatened a veto over. Rice’s negotiations suggested the U.S. was open to change, when in fact it was not.
Whether the issue is Sudan, Egypt, North Korea or Rwanda, Rice has been either missing in action or unable to deliver a quick and effective resolution.
Firing Rice may serve Secretary of State Hillary Clinton too. Clinton’s team has always viewed Susan Rice with suspicion dating back to the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, when Rice went on MSNBC to slam Clinton’s ad claiming she was best equipped to take the national security emergency call at 3 a.m. “Clinton hasn’t had to answer the phone at three o’clock in the morning and yet she attacked Barack Obama for not being ready. They’re both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call,” Rice said. Secretary Clinton, one State Department diplomat told me, has tried to distance herself from Rice and her lackluster U.N. performance.
President Obama could show the Arab street that it is unacceptable for the United States government to sit idly by while the United Nations Security Council does nothing. What better way to show that things at the U.N. have to change than to fire the woman spearheading the failed U.S. efforts there. Rice’s last diplomatic initiative should be putting the United States’ reputation above her own.