Ambassador Susan Rice had nothing to do with Benghazi, as President Obama told us, but she appeared on five Sunday political talk shows anyway. On those shows, Rice mouthed talking points that weren’t true. Continue reading
Most reporters haven’t been following Ambassador Susan Rice’s performance at the United Nations since her appointment in January 2009. To many journalists, Rice’s misleading interviews on the five Sunday Shows the weekend after the 9/11/12 terrorist attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were one of the first times they had heard from her. To veteran foreign policy observers, Rice’s shameful performance that Sunday was one of many blunders over the last four years. Continue reading
The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is battling with former allies Egypt, Turkey and the U.S. and struggling to find support in Europe. As Israel grows increasingly isolated, the Palestinians are moving to take advantage of the international discontent over Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank. Israel is losing friends.
Over the last several months, Israel has faced a barrage of diplomatic problems from some of its typical antagonists but has also faced growing criticism from some of its traditional allies. While Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority continue to work to isolate Israel, once reliable neighbors have given Netanyahu’s government new concerns. Under Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, Turkey has consistently criticized Israeli policies and fractured its relationship with its once stable ally. Erdogan, who has been moving his country away from the West and towards more traditional Islamic partners, has led an all-out diplomatic and legal assault against Israel over the last few months. Since arriving as Prime Minister in 2003, Erdogan started moving Ankara away from Jerusalem and towards a more traditional Islamic power base. Erdogan’s friendship has grown with Ahmedinejad, Assad and Qaddaffi while he has isolated himself from Netanyahu and President Obama. Erdogan vocally increased the pressure on Netanyahu’s government after Israel repeatedly refused to apologize for a 2010 Gaza flotilla incident where nine Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli military forces after the Turkish boat entered Israeli waters and failed to follow directives. Israel said it wouldn’t apologize because it was only protecting its citizens. Erdogan responded by directing all Israeli diplomats out of Ankara and promising to take the incident to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
After 32 years of peace between Egypt and Israel following the signing of the Camp David Accords, Egypt, too, is moving away from Israel. The fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February of this year left a leadership vacuum in Cairo that has left the once stable country in turmoil. Egypt’s border with Israel has grown increasingly hostile and those seeking to become Egypt’s next President have used the chaos to stoke nationalism. Last month, Israeli forces accidentally killed six Egyptian soldiers while pursuing Palestinian terrorists who illegally crossed into Israel via the Sinai and killed eight Israelis. The calls for Egyptian retaliation against Israel increased. It prompted a 23 year old man named Ahmed Shahat to scale the building housing the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and remove the Israeli flag. For his stunt, Egyptian leaders rewarded him with a government job and a subsidized apartment. Their actions encouraged others to seek the same reward. Last week, hundreds of Egyptians stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, tore down the protective barrier and illegally entered the building ransacking it.
The Obama Administration, too, has also had a bumpy road with Netanyahu’s government. President Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech was not received well by Israeli diplomats who felt that it was a signal of changing U.S. policy. Since then, diplomats from both sides have worked hard to squash rumors of a developing feud. But earlier this year, President Obama called on Israel and Palestine to return to the bargaining table using the pre-1967 borders as a starting point with Prime Minister Netanyahu seated next to him in the Oval Office. Netanyahu bluntly disagreed with Obama in front of the assembled reporters and said it wasn’t something Israel would do.
The lingering hostilities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the stumbling leadership from the Arab Spring protests have convinced Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan that he and Turkey have a greater role to play in the Arab world. Erdogan, an unabashed Islamic leader, sees the opening as a way to increase Turkey’s power. Erdogan also understands that one sure way to win public support in the Arab world, especially during this Arab Spring period, is to encourage a little anti-Israel activity. Nothing unites the Arab street like a fight with Israel. And right now, Erdogan could use the popularity to push his pro-Turkey agenda forward.
The Turkish government earlier rejected the UN’s report on the flotilla incident when it concluded that Israel’s actions were legal but excessive. While the report’s findings would have been the perfect reason to move on from the deadly incident, Erdogan chose to ignore the international body’s Palmer Report and instead rally more anti-Israeli protests. Erdogan’s insistence that Turkey wanted a formal apology was clearly an attempt to embarrass Israel. Erdogan has consistently looked for high-profile media events to make anti-Israeli statements. At the World Economic Forum’s 2009 Davos meeting, Erdogan stormed off the stage he shared with Israeli President Shimon Peres saying, ““When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.” Participants were horrified but he received warm welcomes back home in Turkey. Erdogan’s actions are an attempt to rally the base of his Islamic party and that of Islamic parties throughout the Arab world. His actions aren’t helpful but it seems he doesn’t care. Recently, Erdogan went to far as to call the Israeli government’s attitude a barrier to peace in the Middle East.
Anti-Israeli statements and Egyptian nationalism are also the tools used by those individuals looking to be the next President of Egypt. President Mubarak, for all his failings, held enough political capital to keep peace with Israel by ignoring the radical elements that wanted to fight their historical enemy. The individuals looking to lead Egypt now do not have the same influence. Political candidates seeking favor with the public know that Israel is an easy rallying cry. Almost immediately after Mubarak was ousted, there were nationalist calls to reconsider the Camp David Accords. Unfortunately, no Egyptian leader was willing to calm the crowd and direct the anger towards the real enemy – an economy on the brink of collapse. The shallow excuses of unity against the Jewish enemy while fierce are sure to be short lived. Afterall, everyday Egyptians started their Arab Spring revolution to protest dwindling economic conditions and increasing unemployment. Egyptian leaders must realize that to truly calm their public they must create jobs.
President Obama’s relationship with Israeli leaders seems tense and awkward. The two sides seem to forgive and forget mistakes and usually remain supportive publicly. Obama’s early commitment in his Cairo speech to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward raised expectations but some U.S. policy positions angered Israel and tested the relationship. The Oval Office incident where Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly disagreed with Obama was a low point, but the two leaders have worked to show no discernable differences seen then. The U.S. commitment to veto a Palestinian unilateral UN declaration of statehood has shown that the two sides are still great allies. Obama is under intense support within his own political party to show unity with Israel and Netanyahu, too, is pressured by Israelis to stay close to the U.S.
George W. Bush must be smiling. It started with Afghanistan, then Iraq, Tunisia and now Egypt. The Arab youth are defying Joe Biden and the rest of the American foreign policy “establishment” and proving that their demands are legitimate. Egyptian students, doctors, lawyers and the unemployed are showing that democracy is attainable for the Middle East and that Arabs, too, deserve to live in freedom and prosperity. Tunisia’s revolution was quick, Egypt’s was forceful and resolute. All eyes are on Algeria, Palestine, Yemen and Jordan whose youth seem to be simmering in the same way. Like it or not, George Bush was right and Joe Biden was wrong. President George W. Bush’s vision for democracy in the Middle East may be coming true. Bush spoke often about how generations of committed freedom fighters worked together to bring down Communism throughout Eastern Europe. And Bush used it as an example to suggest that the Middle East could also experience the same freedoms. It seems ironic that the same month in which we celebrate President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday and his forceful demands in Berlin to the Communist leader to “Tear down this Wall”, the Obama Administration missed the chance to support the Middle East’s Berlin moment. President Obama’s flowery Cairo speech in June 2009 tried to carry Bush’s vision for the region forward but subsequently failed to deliver any White House support for the democracy seekers in Iran, Tunisia or Egypt when they needed it. One Arab diplomat on Twitter said today, “President of the free world to speak about freedom from tyranny today at 1:30. You’re 17 days late Mr. President.” When the Egypt protests started eighteen days ago, Vice President Biden immediately took to the airwaves to question the legitimacy of the protesters, claim that Mubarack was not a dictator and to de-link the situation in Tunisia from what was beginning to happen in Cairo. JIM LEHRER: Some people are suggesting that we may be seeing the beginning of a kind of domino effect, similar to what happened after the Cold War in Eastern Europe. Poland came first, then Hungary, East Germany. We have got Tunisia, as you say, maybe Egypt, who knows. Do you smell the same thing coming? JOE BIDEN: No, I don’t. I wouldn’t compare the two……I think it’s a stretch to compare it to Eastern Europe. And later in the PBS interview… JIM LEHRER: The word — the word to describe the leadership of Mubarak and Egypt and also in Tunisia before was dictator. Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator? JOE BIDEN: ….I would not refer to him as a dictator. JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, should we be — should the United States be encouraging these protesters, whether they’re in Tunisia or Egypt or wherever? They want their rights. And should we encourage them to seek them, if it means going to the streets or whatever? JOE BIDEN: …We’re encouraging the protesters to, as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we’re encouraging the government to act responsibly and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out. Watching the thousands of young people take to the streets throughout the Middle East to demand government reforms and greater freedoms is inspiring. The Vice President must be embarrassed by today’s remarkable change in Egypt since he was the first Administration official to take to the airwaves to try and hold up Egypt’s Berlin Wall. The historic departure of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and the thousands of Arab youth in the streets of the Middle East just isn’t Change Biden can believe in.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year rule could be coming to end. But Vice President Joe Biden, speaking for the administration, hopes it’s not. On PBS News Hour Thursday, Biden said, “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.” Biden went on to twice question whether or not the tens of thousands of protesters on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Mahalla El-Kubra, Tanta, and Suez had legitimate complaints.
The Vice President has been famously and consistently called a foreign policy expert by the Washington establishment. In fact, President Obama admitted during his campaign for president that he relied on Biden’s foreign policy advice while both men were in the Senate. Most people in Washington assumed if Obama made it to the White House he would appoint Biden as his Secretary of State, a position Biden openly admitted he wanted. But Biden’s comments to PBS show that he is either naïve to Egypt’s oppressive regime or thinks the criticism is over-hyped and tolerable.
Mubarak responded to the protesters’ demands early Friday morning by shutting down the Internet, including Facebook and Twitter accounts. Italy-based Seabone, Inc, one of Egypt’s major service providers, reported that there was no Internet traffic going into or out of the country after 12:30 a.m. local time. One has to wonder if Joe Biden believes that legitimately elected leaders shut down the Internet when threatened with criticism.
Sultan Al Qassemi, a writer for The National & Emarat Alyoum, pleaded with the outside world for help. He somehow got out a tweet from his account saying “Egypt has shut down the Internet. Calls by Secretary Clinton have been ignored. Please help.” He called out Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs and State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley in his tweet.
Protesters have taken to the streets to demand greater freedoms, democracy and an end to Mubarak’s 30 reign of corruption, police brutality and torture. Opposition leaders have also been calling out the “soft opposition” targeting those who publicly push for reforms, but aren’t willing to challenge Mubarak in any serious way (Biden falls into this category). Egyptian protesters have been encouraged by their Tunisian neighbors’ success. Last week, thousands of Tunisians rallied publicly and demanded that their President, Ben Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali step down. After a few days, President Ben Ali resigned and fled the country. Could Mubarak be next?
Biden’s support for Mubarak in the face of his falling regime sends a powerful and unfortunate message to the Arab world that their freedoms are negotiable. While American interests in the Middle East must obviously be protected, America’s credibility to support democracy for everyone everywhere is crucial. Wiki leaks have already shown American ambassadors and foreign service officers criticizing governments privately but publicly saying very little. How can VP Biden ever talk about the importance of fighting for freedom and democracy again if he chooses to support a corrupt dictatorship at the very time its being so strongly challenged from within? The Vice President’s absolute show of support for Mubarak is unfortunately being heard throughout the Arab world. The people of Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea are listening. It’s too bad that Vice President Biden can’t find a way to support everyday Egyptians’ pleadings for more freedoms.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Some advice for Ambassador Rice
From 2001 to 2008 I spent my days (and many nights) speaking for the United States at the United Nations. I was the longest serving American spokesman in history and it gave me a unique perspective on the United Nations and its relationship with its largest funder – the American taxpayer. The reality of how the U.N. works is not what some people on the right and the left would have you believe. As Susan Rice begins her tenure representing America at the U.N., she will find an institution in great need of change.
We all want the U.N. to live up to its original intent and be the place where the world comes together to solve international problems. Currently, however, too many members like the status quo too much to want to make any changes. While the United States, Japan and a handful of others are pressing to reform how money is appropriated and spent, others – including South Africa, Egypt and China are more interested in adding new programs and studies (that benefit their own economies or employ their own bureaucrats) with little regard for who pays the bill.
The biggest loser is the American taxpayer who is already spending more than $1 billion every year on U.N. dues, peacekeeping and contributions to U.N. agencies and yet has one vote among the 192 others to do anything about it.
The U.N.’s effort to support the fight against terrorism is a particular study in chaos. Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the U.N. committed to fight terrorism and freeze the assets of terrorists. Committees were established and reports demanded of every country as to what was being done to stop the flow of terrorists within their border. Since then, after millions of dollars spent on committee structures and salaries, reports have either been shelved, not used or not even given to the U.N. As Security Council resolutions go unimplemented with no consequences for those who ignore them, more must be done to hold countries accountable. Former U.S. Ambassador John Danforth famously asked, “Can’t we agree that shooting children in the back is terrorism?” To no avail.
After eight frustrating years, I still have hope for the U.N. I also know that it will take a lot of sustained fortitude to fix these problems. Here are my recommendations for the New U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Ms. Rice:
1. Make reforming the U.N. budget process your No. 1 priority.
2. Don’t agree to any increase in U.S. taxpayer dollars spent at the U.N. until we see actual reforms.
3. The current committees designed for fighting terrorism are not working and must be changed by demanding more of members, not less.
4. Global warming, AIDS education and funding, smarter humanitarian assistance, and the protection of children are all noble causes that will greatly benefit from reforming the U.N. budget.
5. The best run agencies at the U.N. are the ones like UNICEF and the World Food Program where contributions are voluntary, not obligatory, and the top management are responsible to and held accountable by a board.
6. Fight hard for Japan to get a permanent seat on the Security Council, as it is one of our greatest allies.
7. The Human Rights Council will not be a legitimate agency until human rights abusers are denied membership.
8. You should get up every day and ask yourself “How do I make America stronger?” not “How do I make the U.N. stronger?”
9. If you are popular with other ambassadors it is probably because they like the fact that you aren’t asking them to do anything.
10. You should ignore the far right conservatives who think the U.N. doesn’t do anything good and the far left liberals who think the U.N. bestows legitimacy and therefore must first approve American ideas.
These reforms will go a long way toward showing Americans that the ideals of the U.N. can become reality and that the money we give to the U.N. to alleviate poverty and despair is worth the investment.
Richard Grenell served as director of communications for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations from 2001-2008.