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
When Barack Obama was campaigning to be president of the United States in 2008, he frequently promised Americans that he would lead the world. In fact, he and his team relentlessly pounded President George W. Bush for “going it alone” and alienating our friends and allies around the globe. His then-campaign foreign policy advisor and current U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice even joked about how, if elected, they would repair the damage and lead the UN in a way that the Bush team couldn’t. But after almost 2 years on the job, Rice and Obama haven’t been able to garner support from the UN to implement U.S. foreign policy priorities as they said they would. In fact, on Iran, North Korea, Sudan and UN reform, Obama and Rice haven’t produced the support Bush garnered. While Rice has touted her performance on one Iran sanctions resolution as unique progress at the UN, her final vote count on that one resolution got more NO votes than did Bush’s five Iran resolutions got in total. Unfortunately, Rice has also been painfully quiet when faced with resistance and hostility from the enemies of democracy and freedom. As President Obama goes back to the UN this week, there are 10 things he should do to more forcefully push for progress on U.S. priorities and more aggressively defend the U.S.:
1. Make clear that the Arizona law the UN attacked was written to stop illegal immigration, not prohibit legal immigration.
2. Call out the Human Rights Council for yet another disastrous year of Israel bashing and overlooking rights violators.
3. Nominate a U.S. Ambassador level person to tackle UN reform and UN budget waste, fraud, abuse and duplicity.
4. Ask Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to investigate the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to ascertain how erroneous scientific claims were added to official UN reports.
5. Make clear that the United States will not unilaterally disarm its nuclear weapons and will not support restrictions on private firearm ownership.
6. Call for a total review of every UN peace-keeping operation and end those that aren’t making progress.
7. Ask the African Union to pressure Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to end the violence and intimidation of southern Sudan and allow international observers for January’s referendum.
8. Condemn any global airline tax that the UN is thinking of implementing to pay for climate change initiatives.
9. Make clear that his Administration will not become a signatory of the International Criminal Court until significant changes are made to satisfy Senate concerns and protect American personnel overseas.
10. Correct the record with the UN press corps that First Lady Michelle Obama doesn’t think that being first lady is “hell” but that she is actually very proud to represent the greatest country in the world.
These 10 proposals would go a far way in showing the UN that while the Obama Administration is interested in seeking a kinder, gentler world; it will not allow a further retreat of democracy and human rights just to get along with others.
It sounds as if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had enough. Her new strong tone on North Korea is a welcome, albeit overdue, shift. The Obama Administration’s North Korea policy for the past 18 months has consisted of public relations ploys of pretending to get tough on the rogue state and a propensity to re-package the hard work of the Bush team and call it something new and improved. Her announcement that the Obama Administration will enforce the existing sanctions on nuclear related materials and luxury goods going in and out of North Korea is yet another example. While many members of the mainstream media have fallen for the Obama team’s marketing efforts, veteran North Korea experts and UN observers aren’t fooled. Still, Clinton’s new forceful language signaled that even she believes the current policy isn’t working and more must be done. She, seemingly alone among the Obama Administration foreign policy team, is aware that success in North Korea requires more than just talking.
What Secretary Clinton really said is that the Obama Administration will finally start enforcing the demands placed on North Korea during the Bush Administration. Although the announcement claims to be fresh and innovative, the only thing new and improved is that the Obama team is admitting that its global celebrity status isn’t enough to convince other countries to actually act on their international obligations.
Even South Korea, who has the most to lose from a provocative North Korea, isn’t buying the “new” argument from the Administration. “I don’t really think there’s anything new,” Han Sung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister, told the Christian Science Monitor. And he is correct.
In 2006, U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton led the UN Security Council to unanimously pass an unequivocal resolution, number 1718, stating that all UN members must inspect all cargo going in and out of North Korea to ensure that there is no transfer of any nuclear related products or luxury goods. The language is absolute and written under the strongest possible terms – that is to say it acts under Chapter 7 of the UN’s charter which allows countries to use legal force to restore international peace and security. It was also passed just 5 days after North Korea conducted a nuclear test.
In 2009, 18 days after yet another North Korea nuclear test, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and her team re-packaged resolution 1718 into their own UN resolution with the same mandates but different language in an effort to look like they were doing something new. While many in the media took the bait, analysts who took the time to look at the language of both resolutions concluded there was nothing in Rice’s resolution that wasn’t already barred in the original Bush Administration resolution. With inspections required on every ship and plane going in and out of North Korea, it’s impossible to suggest that searches are somehow new. The only thing that may be new is that the Obama team is consistently leaking the details of vessel seizures to David Sanger of The New York Times. And in return, Sanger has been all too willing to act like something is actually new with their North Korean policy.
The hard work the Bush team did in passing unanimous Security Council resolutions and the ridicule from Obama and Rice at the time now seems ironic given the poor performance the current Administration has in passing strong resolutions. 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 avoids confrontation. It took Rice 103 days to move the Security Council to issue a statement after North Korea sank a South Korean ship that killed 46 sailors. And on Iran, Rice was only able to get 12 countries to support new sanctions compared to the Bush team’s unanimous support for three separate resolutions. Secretary Clinton seems all too willing to let Rice’s failed record stand alone. Clinton has done little to help her fellow cabinet member with international negotiations and State Department insiders say that the two seldom speak or coordinate directly.
While Obama has long believed that his personal story alone would compel leaders to follow him, Clinton’s frustration with the Administration’s lack of progress on issues like North Korea and Iran is beginning to bubble up. Today’s tough talk of enforcing previous international obligations is the first sign Clinton has given that she is irritated with the weak Obama policies. But it isn’t the first time Hillary Clinton disagreed with Barack Obama’s foreign policy vision. During the 2008 campaign, candidate Clinton called candidate Obama’s ideas on rogue nations “naïve”. Clinton also criticized Obama as someone that “wavers from seeming to believe that mediation and meetings without preconditions can solve some of the world’s most intractable problems and advocating rash unilateral military action”. Clinton went on to say, “We need a president who understands there is a time for force, a time for diplomacy and a time for both.” But in perhaps her strongest criticism of Obama, she said he would need “a foreign policy instruction manual” if elected.
Obama’s foreign policy weakness and acquiescence has made him an international celebrity, but he isn’t producing the promised results on our international priorities. The Obama team’s poor performance calls into question its overly diplomatic approach and its fixation with trying to lead the world through excessive talk. But Clinton signaled that she is frustrated with just talk and wants action. Clinton’s reference to the Bush Administration’s North Korea sanctions resolution is a sure sign she wants more than a PR strategy to deal with rogue nations. It remains to be seen if the Secretary of State has enough capital inside the Administration to start teaching the President a few things about being tough with dictators.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is a campaign style spokesman who thrives on political spin. But after almost 18 months of acting as the official White House Spokesman, he shouldn’t be allowed to spin foreign policy facts on Meet the Press without pushback from David Gregory or other journalists. On Sunday, Gibbs tried to spin the Obama Administration’s policies on Iran and North Korea by misrepresenting the facts about the support the Obama team got at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Gibbs either doesn’t understand what happened at the UN or he is lying. Gibbs repeatedly referred to “bringing everyone to the table” to support “the strongest sanctions” the UN has ever placed on North Korea and Iran. He also said that the Bush Administration didn’t have the support of Russia and China on their sanctions resolutions in “September or October 2008” and that the Obama Administration has “better relationships with countries” and “improved relationships….that make our Country safer.” But the facts show that Gibbs is wrong.
Gibbs should know that the Obama team, lead by UN Ambassador Susan Rice, failed to get a unanimous vote on the first and only Iran sanctions resolution this administration has authored. In fact, the Obama team failed to get the support of Lebanon, Turkey and Brazil. Of the 15 members of the Security Council, Rice and the Obama team only received 12 votes – the least amount of support we have ever seen for a UNSC sanctions resolution on Iran. While Gibbs claims that everyone is at the table, the Obama table has more empty seats than the Bush table had. Despite what Gibbs tries to spin, the Bush team got fewer NO votes in 5 resolutions on Iran than the Obama team got on their one and only resolution.
Additionally, Gibbs needs to go back and look at the Security Council roll call vote and video footage from UN resolution #1835 that passed on September 27, 2008. While Gibbs claims on Sunday’s Meet the Press that Russia’s and China’s support was unclear, they both clearly raised their hand to vote in favor of the resolution. That resolution, which called on Iran to “comply fully and without delay” with SC demands and IAEA directives, was written, negotiated and forced to a unanimous vote 7 days after the IAEA issued their then-latest report on Iran’s illegal uranium enrichment. Gibbs’ claim that we didn’t know where Russia and China stood is laughable when you can actually watch the video showing the Chinese and Russian diplomats with their hands in the air.
But Gibbs is not the only Administration official to spread misinformation about the Bush team’s record at the UN. Shortly after the June 9, 2010 SC vote on Iran sanctions where the Obama team got only 12 votes in favor of the resolution, UN Ambassador Susan Rice also tried to distract attention from her poor performance by misleading Fox News Sunday viewers about the Bush team’s vote count. Rice jumped to defend the Obama Administration’s lackluster performance by claiming that previous 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 meager results look better isn’t factual. It was, in fact, one of three Iran resolutions the Bush team got passed unanimously. Two other resolutions passed with only one country voting against sanctions and one country abstaining (singular abstention, not plural as Rice claimed). Not a bad accomplishment for a team that the Obama Administration labeled devoid of friends around the world.
Gibbs’ claims of better relationships with other countries also seem suspect if those friends don’t actually support us on priority issues. The Obama team consistently confuses kind words with actual commitments and votes. While some countries clearly like the softer stance from the Obama Administration, they also aren’t being convinced to support us. The Obama team waited 17 months before they brought forward a UN resolution pressuring Iran with additional sanctions. In that time, the Iranians made unfettered progress toward a nuclear weapon with less pressure and inquiry from an international community celebrating the fact that they weren’t being confronted by the U.S. with the Iran question.
Gibbs’ performance on Meet the Press suggests that he either consciously misled viewers on the Administration’s UN performance or he isn’t paying attention to Susan Rice’s performance. Either way, the White House press corps should challenge his statements and make him correct the record.
Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice called a press conference. She used her political capital and soapbox to bring together UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin to combat what she calls “a global problem.” She called on world leaders to follow her lead in bringing an end to this global scourge. As the powerful group gathered in front of the international media assembled to witness the announcement, Rice proclaimed, “It’s a killer. The suffering it causes is direct and immediate—lives lost for no reason, futures shattered in an instant. But its toll is truly global. It’s a problem, as the Secretary-General just said, that needs global attention and action—and that’s why we all stand here today.”
In her first press conference with the Secretary-General and the Russian Ambassador by her side, Rice wasn’t speaking about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, Sudan’s genocide or North Korea’s downing of a South Korean ship. Rice wasn’t speaking of the global fight against terrorism either. Rice called the powerful group together to stop the world from texting while driving.
While texting and driving may be an important issue in the United States or other western countries, the overwhelming majority of the world’s population doesn’t own a cell phone, let alone a car. Recent statistics show that roughly 8% of the world’s population owns a car, compared to 89% of U.S. households. Texting while driving, an important public safety issue, is best left to the jurisdiction of local and state officials, not our UN Ambassador. America’s representative to the UN has plenty of other issues she should be working on. For Rice to assemble such an important group of leaders to confront such a non-controversial issue shows an incredible weakness as a serious diplomat. Within just a few weeks, Rice chose to speak up on texting while driving but failed to speak out on Iran’s election to the Women’s Commission.
As Ambassador, Rice hasn’t been willing to wade into America’s complicated foreign policy challenges and has avoided controversial issues. Citizen Rice, however, talked tough about America’s foreign policy challenges and spoke often about Sudan’s genocide.
In 2004, citizen Rice lambasted President Bush for not doing more to lead our allies at the UN on the Iranian nuclear issue. She said, “This approach demands more of the United States than abdication to European diplomacy. It requires U.S. leadership, in partnership with the Europeans, of a complex and urgent negotiation with Iran. Apparently, President Bush finds this prospect too difficult or too uncomfortable.” (Her full article, “We Need a Real Iran Policy,” can be read here: http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2004/1230iran_rice.aspx). But in the nearly 16 months Rice has been representing the American people at the United Nations, she has not produced a single resolution aimed at stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The Bush Administration produced five resolutions on Iran’s illegal pursuit, three with increasing sanctions.
And in 2007 while working at the Brookings Institute, Rice accepted an invitation from then-Senator Joe Biden to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the issue of Darfur. Then citizen Rice said, “The U.S. should press for a Chapter 7 U.N. resolution that issues Sudan an ultimatum. Accept the unconditional deployment of the U.N. force or face military consequences. The resolution would authorize enforcement by U.N. member states collectively or individually.” But UN Ambassador Rice hasn’t passed, circulated or even written that resolution. And in a 2006 interview with National Public Radio, citizen Rice said, “Well, I think the first thing that the international community ought to do is to strike Sudanese air assets, their aircraft, their helicopters, their airfields, that have been used relentlessly to attack innocent civilians in Darfur.” As Ambassador, Rice has never asked the Security Council to approve those airstrikes.
Either Susan Rice is a weak negotiator or she is a tough talker from the sidelines. If America’s Ambassador to the UN is to be relegated to stopping drivers from texting while behind the wheel, then maybe President Obama should ask Oprah to be our representative at the UN – at least she is asking people to sign a contract.
Coming on the heels of not speaking out on Iran’s election last week to the Commission on the Status of Women and three other UN Committees, Susan Rice, the sometimes American Ambassador to the UN, today didn’t even mention Libya’s name when asked about the African country’s election to the UN’s Human Rights Council.
It was a softball question to Rice from a veteran UN reporter: “Some human rights groups have complained about Libya joining the Council, do you share those concerns?”
Rice said that sticking with diplomatic tradition, she wouldn’t reveal how America votes. And then she went on to compliment the Human Rights Council’s work. It was a stunning blow to human rights activists around the world.
The Obama Administration last year joined the Human Rights Council after the Bush Administration took America off the UN committee for its lack of action on serious issues and its inability to name violators of human rights. The Bush team felt strongly that the Council was spending too much time beating up on the U.S. and Israel and too little time looking at serious human rights violators. And while the Bush Administration withheld the Human Rights Council’s funding in protest, the Obama Administration restored it. In re-joining the UN’s Council, Obama and Rice said that it would be better to work from within rather than criticize from the outside. But now that Rice is inside the Council, she doesn’t have the guts to say the name of the newly elected country that has a history of rights violations and terrorism. Today Rice repeated her claim, “…it is preferable to work from within to shape and reform a body with the importance and potential of the Human Rights Council, rather than to stay on the sidelines and reject it.”
So let’s look at Rice’s attempts to “shape” the Council for this year’s vote.
In typical UN fashion, four African countries were running for four regional seats on the world body’s most prominent human rights committee. Although Rice has known for weeks that Libya would win a seat on the Human Rights Council because there was no competition for the African seats, she chose not to highlight the issue before the vote or attempt to find another African candidate to challenge the election status quo. In a letter sent to Rice by more than 30 human rights organizations before the vote, the clean slate attempt by the Africans was highlighted as a violation of the original reform commitment. The letter said, “This contravenes the 2006 promise that the reformed Council would bring competitive elections, and sets a poor example.” Rice ignored the human rights groups’ appeal and didn’t try to make a competitive race for Libya.
Making no attempt to find another candidate country is not working to “shape” the Council as Rice claims the U.S. is doing by joining it. Shaping the Council means that you help elect countries that have a strong human rights record and you work to keep countries that violate human rights off the Council. Rice didn’t speak up to highlight the problem, didn’t try to find another candidate and couldn’t utter Libya’s name today.
But Rice did compliment the Human Rights Council for its work. Although the Council hasn’t been able to seriously confront widespread rights violations in Sudan, North Korea, Burma or Cuba, Rice thinks the Council deserves praise for its important efforts. Contributions like the Council’s condemnation of Israel for war crimes in Gaza, or the recent statement by 6 UN human rights experts that the new Arizona law on illegal immigration could violate international standards.
Even Former Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended reforming the Human Rights Council by limiting membership and questioning the regional voting system that creates geographic quotas in his March 2005 report titled, `In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights For All’. To be fair, you can’t blame the UN when the members fail to act. But we can expect the American representative to show up and speak with moral clarity.
What is clear is that Susan Rice hasn’t found her voice at the UN even though she has been in the job for over a year. It’s hard to take her seriously when in one week’s time she doesn’t speak out on Iran’s election to a UN Committee to promote women’s rights nor Libya’s ascension to sit and judge human rights violators. One has to ask, how is staying silent “working from within”? And how is doing nothing to stop a human rights violator from getting elected to a human rights committee “shaping the Council”? If working from within means that Rice loses her voice, then America needs a stronger voice at the UN.
The Obama Team is Taking Credit for a Bush Policy
The White House this week leaked intelligence information to the New York Times to suggest that their North Korea policy is working. And although David Sanger from the Times was all too quick to buy the Administration’s line, an honest assessment of the Obama team’s claims shows that the successful policy they highlight was designed and first implemented in the Bush Administration.
Over the weekend, an airplane leaving North Korea with a cargo of illegal weapons was seized by Thailand. The Thai intelligence authorities worked with American officials to determine that the 5 member crew from a cargo company in the Republic of Georgia was carrying roughly 30 tons of illegal military equipment.
The Obama team points to the recently passed United Nations Security Council Resolution on North Korea, Resolution 1874, as evidence that they can design a strategy to contain North Korea from gaining weapons and materials to make or launch a nuclear weapon like seizing the Georgian plane. UN Security Council Resolution 1874, however, authorizes countries to board sea vessels and ships, not airplanes. The New York Times highlighted story in Thailand was an airplane and therefore technically didn’t fall under the Obama team’s UN resolution – it was a Bush Administration resolution that gave the authority to seize the plane.
Additionally, the White House and the New York Times missed the fact that the UN Security Council has had sanctions on the DPRK for years. In rushing to trumpet the Obama team’s erroneous claims, the New York Times failed to understand that it is already illegal to carry arms in or out of North Korea. The Bush Administration passed the UN Security Council resolution that made it illegal to transfer illegal weapons by sea or air – or any means. Thailand has been authorized, albeit expected, to seize ships and planes suspected of carrying illegal cargo since 2006. Resolution 1695, passed July 15, 2006, reads in operative paragraphs 3 and 4:
3. Requires all Member States, in accordance with their national legal authorities and legislation and consistent with international law, to exercise vigilance and prevent missile and missile-related items, materials, goods and technology being transferred to DPRK’s missile or WMD programmes;
4. Requires all Member States, in accordance with their national legal authorities and legislation and consistent with international law, to exercise vigilance and prevent the procurement of missiles or missile related-items, materials, goods and technology from the DPRK, and the transfer of any financial
resources in relation to DPRK’s missile or WMD programmes;
And Resolution 1718, passed October 14, 2006, says in operative paragraphs 7 and 8:
7. Decides also that the DPRK shall abandon all other existing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programme in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner;
8. Decides that:
(a) All Member States shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the DPRK, through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in their territories…
Further, early in the Bush Administration John Bolton conceived of and implemented a successful program called The Proliferation Security Initiative or PSI. PSI acted as a coalition of the willing searchers. Several countries in and around North Korea have been working together for quite some time to patrol the water, land and air for possible illegal shipments going in and coming out of North Korea. The Japanese, in particular, have been very concerned and have aggressively been watching North Korean exports and imports. Countries interested in intercepting cargo going in and out of North Korea have been stopping and boarding suspicious vessels for many years. Once Bolton was at the United Nations as our American Ambassador, he was able to draft similar language used from the successful PSI program into UN Security Council mandated resolutions thereby compelling countries to work to ensure no illegal weapons entered or left North Korea with a UN mandated appeal.
However, The New York Times’ David Sanger yesterday wrote, “The Obama administration is trying to show that it will choke off the North’s illicit exports even while attempting to reopen nuclear talks. In interviews in recent weeks, several officials said they believed that the Bush administration, which came to office seeking to topple the North Korean government of Kim Jong-il, mistakenly eased pressure on him while pursuing disarmament accords, almost all of them since renounced by the North.”
While Resolution 1874 is an additional constraint on North Korea, it is redundant and not as thorough as Resolutions 1695 and 1718. Resolutions 1695 and 1718, more important resolutions passed during the Bush Administration, established wide-ranging sanctions on DPRK back in 2006.
The simple fact is that during the Bush Administration the pressure was greatly increased on the North Koreans, not decreased as the White House and the Times says. I have written to David Sanger asking him and the New York Times to correct the record but so far I haven’t heard back.