Shortened version of a CNN discussion on Iraq with former British MP Tony Benn.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has been on the job for 18 months now, but she doesn’t have much to show for it. Her record of accomplishments and performance on behalf of the American people is embarrassing. While Rice has been active in the social scene of Washington and The White House, a study released by the uber-serious non-profit group Security Council Report suggests that the past year has been the most inactive Security Council since 1991. Rice missed crucial negotiations on Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium, she failed to speak out when Iran was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women and three other UN Committees, she failed to call-out Libya when they were elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council, she recently delivered an Iran sanctions resolution with the least support Iran resolutions have ever had and she called her one and only press conference with the UN Secretary General on the issue of texting while driving. For an Administration that promised to utilize the UN and improve our reputation around the world, its dinner party circuit strategy isn’t making America more secure.
Much of the blame for the weakness belongs to Rice and her habitual silence. Rice has not conducted the hard negotiations nor done the sometimes unpopular work of engaging the UN on the United States’ priority issues. When Rice does attend UN negotiations, she is all too willing to avoid confrontation. While other foreign Ambassadors speak fondly of Rice and the Obama Administration’s easy ways, they have been weak negotiators for the American people.
This lack of American leadership at the UN has resulted in the general Security Council inactivity spotlighted in the study by the Columbia University-affiliated group – Security Council Report.
The Report says:
“In 2009 the total number of Council decisions (resolutions and presidential statements) decreased by 26 percent from 2008. The number dropped from 113 to 83, the lowest level since 1991.
Resolutions dropped from 65 to 48 and presidential statements from 48 to 35.
This significant trend is also mirrored in a matching reduction in formal Council activity. The number of formal Council meetings decreased by 20 percent, from 243 to 194.
The number of press statements, which is one indicator of Council decision making at the informal level, also decreased by 23 percent, from 47 to 36.”
While Rice launched her tenure at the UN with a glamour spread in Vogue Magazine by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz showing her kicking back in an empty Security Council Chamber, she seems to not enjoy the Chamber when it’s full of diplomats. During the Haiti crisis, Rice was not only absent from the Security Council vote to expand the UN’s peacekeeping operation, but she also failed to call an emergency meeting in the immediate aftermath to request more help. In fact, 7 days after the Haiti earthquake left tens of thousands of people in the streets without food or shelter, it was UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that came to the Security Council to request more troops – the American Ambassador hadn’t bothered.
Earlier this summer, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Israel’s raid of a ship headed to Gaza — and the United States was represented by the deputy at the US Mission. Reporters, UN members and activists were mystified as to why Susan Rice was a no-show during the roughly 12-hour negotiations which left Israel fending off global criticism without the top American diplomat to help. The UN Security Council ultimately issued a statement on the situation in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 1, after starting deliberations on Monday, May 31 – the American Memorial Day holiday. Rice never showed up for any of the meetings. Coming on the heels of Rice’s silence and absence from the meeting where Iran was elected to the UN Women’s committee and Rice’s refusal to call out Libya after it was elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council, Rice’s performance is leaving Americans wondering if she really wants to be the American Ambassador to the UN.
More than 30 human rights organizations appealed to Rice before the crucial Human Rights Council membership vote in an effort to get her to find another country to run against Libya. The activists pleaded, “This contravenes the 2006 promise that the reformed Council would bring competitive elections, and sets a poor example.” The groups urged Rice to do something. But Rice ignored the human rights leaders’ appeal and didn’t try to make a competitive race for Libya. Rice didn’t speak up to highlight the problem, didn’t try to find another candidate and couldn’t utter Libya’s name to condemn Libya’s successful election after the vote.
Rice‘s avoidance of tough negotiations on matters important to America is unfortunate, but her lack of engagement on UN budget reform is shameful. U.S. citizens pay 22% of the UN’s regular budget, 26% of the UN Peacekeeping Budget and give millions more in voluntary contributions to a plethora of other UN programs. They deserve an ambassador who doesn’t duck a messy public fight with other countries looking to spend American taxpayers’ dollars.
But perhaps the Rice’s most astonishing failure was that she only was able to get 12 of the 15 countries on the United Nations Security Council to vote for increased sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons. On Fox News Sunday, Rice jumped to defend the Obama Administration’s lackluster performance by claiming that Iran resolutions were not unanimous during the Bush Administration and that there were “abstentions”.
Her strategy to minimize the Bush team’s performance in order to make her own poor performance look better isn’t factual. The vote was the first Iran resolution for the Obama team but not the first time the Security Council pressured the government of Iran to suspend all nuclear enrichment-related and reprocessing activity. President George W. Bush and his team wrote, negotiated and forced a vote of the 15 nations that sit on the Council a total of five times. Three Iran resolutions under Bush passed unanimously. Two other resolutions passed with only one country voting against sanctions and one country abstaining (singular abstention, not plural as Rice claimed).
After so much hype about President Barack Obama’s foreign policy engagement strategy, the UN resolution was remarkably weak, took too long to get and received less support than Bush’s team’s. Bush lost two countries’ support in five Iran resolutions; Obama’s team led by Rice lost three countries’ support in one resolution. It’s ironic that the Obama team labeled the Bush team devoid of friends around the world. Obama’s foreign policy weakness and acquiescence has made him an international celebrity guest, but it isn’t producing the promised results on U.S. foreign policy priorities. The Obama team’s poor performance calls into question its overly diplomatic strategy to lead the world through excessive talk.
Rice has gambled this past year that keeping America unengaged at the UN is the best way to keep the Obama Administration, and herself, popular with other countries. But while the newly released report suggests that the Security Council has been cordial and pleasant in 2009, the number of crisis situations, international conflicts and peacekeeping operations haven’t decreased. No meaningful improvement has been seen to the international issues monitored by the Security Council; in fact, the study suggests that some situations have gotten worse. Without American leadership at the UN, countries just continue to talk and socialize at the U.S. taxpayer’s expense.
The facts show that the Bush style that Obama routinely ridiculed and derided produced better results than his exaggerated diplomacy has achieved. If you are comfortable living in a world where America has no more influence than China, then you may like Obama’s softer, quieter, weaker America. Iran certainly loves the breathing room they got from Rice waiting 17 months before increasing the pressure on their illegal nuclear weapons program. And allies like Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon now find it easy to ignore Obama. It isn’t popular to say, but the world needs a strong America. The world needs an America that leads our allies and isn’t troubled by certain charges of hubris from elites on the Upper East Side of New York City or in capitals around the world. One thing is clear – Obama’s easy professorial attitude isn’t winning us votes.
It’s Been Bloody, Deadly and Yet An Example For the Entire Middle East
The Iraqi people have voted in free and fair elections locally, nationally and provincially since Saddam Hussein was ousted by the American military in 2003. This week, Iraqis will show the Arab world once again that their hard-fought freedom and painful sacrifices are an example for all people struggling under oppressive regimes.
On January 10, 2007, President George W. Bush defied critics and ignored popular opinion and political polls throughout the United States by committing more than 20,000 additional American troops to the war in Iraq. “The Surge,” as it is commonly called, has since been credited with bringing the Iraqi people more security, less violence and greater freedoms. By July 2008, the surge was heralded as a success from Baghdad to Boston.
In originally announcing the highly controversial surge, President Bush made a nationally televised gamble to dramatically change the most important United States foreign policy of his presidency. While Bush confidently said that the surge was for a “unified, democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror,” Democrats in Washington, DC, loudly disagreed. Bush went on to make clear that more than 20,000 American men and women would be placed throughout Baghad and the Al Anbar Province “to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security.” The president’s bold gambit was belittled and roundly mocked among liberals in the United States and Europe — as well as by the future leader of the free world.
Moments after the surge was announced, then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama announced, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” Future President Obama was emphatic that America should not only not add troops but that American men and women should also exit Iraq as soon as possible. In announcing his candidacy for president a month later, Obama said: “It’s time to start bringing our troops home…That’s why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008.” Within months of entering the race for the White House in 2007, Obama started voting against Congressional funding for the troops and campaigning strongly for bringing the troops home.
It’s fair to say that if Barack Obama would have been president a year earlier than he was, a very different Iraq would have emerged than the one developing today. In June 2006 and September of 2007, Obama voted to bring the American troops home from Iraq. If implemented, Obama’s wish would have left the untrained Iraqi military force to deal with the sectarian violence alone. Iran, Syria and Al-Qaeda would have been left unchallenged in their efforts to destabilize Iraq and surely would have successfully fomented a civil war by moving their secret campaign to arm and entice violent factions out into the open. The more than 4,300 American soldiers who died defending freedom in Iraq and the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis killed by the extremists’ violence would have been in vain.
But thankfully, for Iraqis who believe in democracy and crave freedom, George W. Bush ignored popular opinion and worked closely with military experts to surge Iraq forward and help put it on the path it is today. Although Iraq still sees sectarian violence and terrorist bombings all too much, there is no question that Iraq has made monumental change to its political system and in a relatively short time.
This week’s free and fair elections are yet another example of a young democracy taking hold in a country where just a few years ago real elections and campaigning were unthinkable. No country in the Middle East gives its people more freedoms than Iraq does today. NGO’s are being created weekly, a civil society has emerged to challenge the government’s decisions, demand transparency, represent minorities and bring attention to people and issues that were ignored in the past. Iraq has a free press that is unrivaled in the Arab world, unobstructed access to the Internet and a military that is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the heart of the world’s most unstable territory.
While Iraq’s very young democracy is messy, incomplete and imperfect, it is currently the envy of the Arab world. But the Western media’s impatience to see a perfectly developed democracy in Iraq has made it difficult for people to see the important progress that has been made in the seven years this month that America led a coalition to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Obama’s view that America should have given up on Iraq certainly had many supporters in the U.S. when the surge was announced. Then-Senator Joe Biden said after Bush’s televised appearance, “If he surges another 20, 30 (thousand), or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.” Then-Senator Hillary Clinton proclaimed, “Based on the president’s speech tonight, I cannot support his proposed escalation of the war in Iraq.” And
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would still be working toward her stated goal “Bringing the War to an End is my Highest Priority as Speaker.” Iraqis should be thankful that Obama, Biden, Clinton and Pelosi weren’t in charge of American foreign policy in 2007.
Because this weekend, 19 million eligible Iraqis will be able to participate in the greatest democratic exercise the Arab world has ever seen. Once again, Iraq is holding national parliamentary elections and showing the world just how far it’s come in a short period of time. Unlike in 2005’s national parliamentary election, the 6,529 candidates this time have been feverishly campaigning for months and their names will be on an open ballot. The Iraqi government has enlisted 300,000 elections officials to watch over the process at the 50,000 polling stations throughout the country, including those ballots cast outside Iraq by Iraqis living abroad. Americans are rightly proud to watch millions of Iraqis go to the polls to cast their ballots for anyone they chose. And like Americans, Iraqis will still need to petition their government, organize around issues and demand transparency even after the final ballot has been counted.
While ethnic and religious rivalry continues, the Iraqis will need to denounce sectarianism and embrace nationalism yet again. While political maneuvering, compromise, scandal and political patronage will unfortunately be a part of any democracy, Iraqis must bravely go to the polls and cast their votes to decide whether Nuri Kamal al-Maliki deserves enough seats to return as prime minister. Whoever wins, the Iraqis must also work to quickly form a new and inclusive government with a peaceful transition of its leaders. As Iraqis are learning, democracy is a constant process, not a one-time event.
But this weekend’s election reminds us, too, that Bush’s vision for democracy in the Middle East is beginning to unfold with the consecutive democratic elections in Iraq and Afghanistan. As both these countries continue to mature and fine-tune their systems, the question remains – which Arab country will be next? Who will start the long, expensive and bloody process of bringing freedom and democracy to their people?
Barack Obama’s First Year in Foreign Policy
This past year has not been a successful year for the 44th President of the United States. Although the Barack Obama Administration has had the incredible luxury of having its own political party – the Democrats – control the House of Representatives and the Senate by wide margins, there has been little progress on domestic and international issues. Obama and his team have the ability to pass any bill and create any new law they want without relying on a single Republican vote. And yet, the Obama Administration has failed to capitalize on that advantage. As Obama came into office, he promised lots of change. But so far, not much has changed. Domestically, the United States is facing the largest unemployment in decades and the American budget deficit is at an all time high. Internationally, the United States may now appear to be more popular but it’s largely because we aren’t asking countries to do much these days. The Obama team isn’t leading the world. They have chosen the easy path of non-confrontation. Copenhagen is proof. Sadly, the Administration has confused popularity with progress. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy priorities over the last year:
Consecutive United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iran were passed during the Bush Administration and the pressure was placed on the Iranian government to stop enriching uranium. Resolution 1737 imposed strict sanctions on the Government of Iran and was passed unanimously by the Security Council on December 23, 2006 after weeks of negotiations and stalling tactics from China and Russia. Resolutions 1696, 1747 and 1803, all passed during the Bush Administration, kept the pressure mounting on Iran to abide by the international community’s demands to suspend all nuclear enrichment activity. Despite grumblings from Security Council members about having to vote for such measures, the Bush Administration forced the votes and in the end was able to get multiple resolutions passed with unanimous support. Where Bush successfully isolated the Government of Iran, the Obama Administration has eased the pressure on them and the members of the Security Council. Instead of building on all of the work that had been done to negotiate sanctions, the Obama Administration pushed the “reset button” and started over, thereby releasing the mounting pressure. The Russians and Chinese were relieved that UN resolution negotiations were not proceeding with urgency. China and Russia even complimented the Obama Administration as a group of “good listeners” and the new process as “respectful”. The Government of Iran, too, was pleased to have more time to enrich uranium and less pressure to stop their delivery system testing. The Obama Administration hasn’t produced a single UN Security Council resolution on Iran since it took office – the last one passed by President Bush a full 15 months ago. The Obama Administration’s policy on Iran has been a complete failure and has only strengthened Iran’s resolve.
President Obama’s December announcement that he will send 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan was a welcomed sign for the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although the Obama team spent too much time fretting over their decision to add the troops because it would upset activists in the Democratic Party, Obama’s decision was a courageous one. Democratic leaders, however, are not pleased with the President’s decision. Nancy Pelosi recently said that it will be up to President Obama to make his own case for the troop increase because lawmakers are skeptical and Dennis Kucinich has vowed to offer a bill that would pull all American troops from Afghanistan immediately. President Obama is now in the uncomfortable position of having to count on Republicans to support his troop increase decision and give him one of his few victories this year. Obama’s announcement now makes the war in Afghanistan his war to win or lose. In Pakistan, the Obama team has a mixed record over the last year. While making the Afghanistan announcement in conjunction with a new robust strategy to confront terrorists in Pakistan, the Obama team has signaled their willingness to think strategically in the region. For America, a successful Afghanistan strategy can only be achieved when al-qaeda and the Taliban are wiped out in both countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan alone is of no strategic value to the United States. While we hope that democracy can be achieved for the people of Afghanistan and that they will be able to have a greater quality of life, these pursuits of human rights and development should be led by the United Nations. Pakistan, however, is a more important strategic partner for the United States and Obama has yet to recognize it. Ensuring that the Government of Pakistan is able to deal with its extremists should be a top priority for America. So far, Obama has not been able to develop a strategy to deal with President Asif Zadari and the growing anti-Americanism in his country.
Candidate Obama promised to pull troops from Iraq as soon as he took office. But President Obama learned that it wasn’t possible. Republicans were pleased that Obama took the advice of his military advisors and changed his policy but his Democratic colleagues have continued to complain about a campaign promise that is still unfulfilled. In trying to capitalize on the growing American frustration over the lack of progress in Iraq, candidate Obama outmaneuvered Hilary Clinton and then John McCain. The many Americans who voted for Obama because they wanted the troops to come home from Iraq have also been disappointed. But the Administration is gambling that an emphasis on a troop increase in Afghanistan and a new robust strategy for Pakistan will insulate them from charges of military weakness in Iraq.
Israel and Palestine
Perhaps the one issue that brought Arabs around the world the most hope for progress with the election of Barack Obama was the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Even some in America were hopeful that Obama would be able to reassure the Palestinians and America’s historical tie with Israel would be sufficient enough to bring the parties together to form a permanent peace. But Barack Obama stumbled early on with his Cairo speech and his directive on settlements. He failed to challenge Arabs to act during his Cairo speech and it was seen by Israel and many in America as a missed opportunity. His public instruction that Israel cease all settlement activity was also a misstep. American Presidents can privately cajole and push the parties to negotiate but no American President can dictate to the parties what should be done. Obama must learn that the Palestinians and the Israelis must each bargain and agree to the terms of any peace deal on their own if it is to last.
Since Tom Brokaw was tongue-tied on Meet The Press on Sunday and Andrea Mitchell was unable to think clearly about a man she covered for 4 years, I thought i should suggest some questions for any other reporters who get a chance to interview former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
1 – First and foremost, if you are so concerned about the direction of your so called party, why didn’t you get involved or even speak out during the Republican primary?
2 – Why did you wait for the last 16 days of the GENERAL ELECTION to speak out if you were truly troubled about “your party’s direction”?
3 – As the man who presented the facts to the UN Security Council on the U.S. intelligence in Iraq, does your endorsement of Obama mean that you agree with Obama that it was the biggest misstake we ever made by going into Iraq?
4 – And if you don’t agree with Obama on Iraq then how do you square endorsing a man that thinks you are the leader of the stupidist foreign policy blunder the U.S. has ever made?
5 – Does your desire “for a fresh set of eyes” leading America mean that you will commit to not taking a job in the next Administration?
6 – While we appreciate your economic assessment that McCain doesn’t seem to know how to respond to the economic crisis facing America, should we take financial advice from a Secretary of State that was billions of dollars over budget on his spending in Iraq and Afghanistan?
7 – And while we are at it, did you or did you not tell the President we should liberate Iraq?
8 – Since Obama has made an issue of the sleezy tactics used to out former CIA agent Valerie Plame, did you tell him before you endorsed him that it was your long term deputy that was the leak?
9 – Obama has said that he would sit down with Ahmedineajad without conditions and you have said that it is foolish to do so, is Obama foolish or have you changed your mind?
10 – You authored, recommended and still advocate for the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, does your endorsement of Obama (who doesn’t agree with it) mean that Obama has agreed to break his promise to change the policy?
richard grenell spent 8 years working at the department of state (4 of which were under powell).