Richard talking Israel and Palestine with Gregg Jarrett
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice announced to the UN’s Arab group that she will support their statement condemning Israel for its settlement construction after failing to convince the group to support her language. Rice previously offered the Arab group a plethora of U.S. government compromises in exchange for different language – language they rejected outright. The Arab group immediately responded to her acquiescence by announcing that they will turn the statement she is supporting into a legally binding and more serious UN resolution to be voted on soon. Rice’s failed UN engagement strategy highlights the dangerous slippery slope of bringing delicate foreign policy crises to the 15 member Security Council. Her actions also perilously miss the message of Egypt’s protesters who are demanding economic reform from their dormant and manipulative leaders.
The incentives Rice offered the Arab Ambassadors at the UN included a harsh condemnation of the Israeli settlements in a future statement from the mid-east Quartet negotiators (comprising of the U.S., UN, Russia and the EU) and an official UN organized tour of the Middle East. But as foreign policy experts hail the region’s recent democracy movement and its’ “Berlin Wall moment”, Rice is at the UN agreeing to condemn the Middle East’s strongest democratic government.
Over the last several days Rice has been negotiating with Lebanon, the UN Security Council’s Arab Group representative, to find settlement language acceptable to both sides. But after offering her compromises, Rice agreed to language saying the U.S. “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity” and that the settlements are “a serious obstacle to the peace process.” The agreement sharply diverges from previous U.S. government statements insisting that the Israelis and the Palestinians negotiate directly to decide for themselves what issues are obstacles to peace. Shouldn’t we spend what little political capital we have left pressuring both sides to sit down face to face?
Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) called Rice’s compromise “too clever by half”. Weiner said, “Instead of doing the correct and principled thing and vetoing an inappropriate and wrong resolution, they now have opened the door to more and more anti-Israeli efforts coming to the floor of the U.N.”
Arab experts have long believed that Americans need to re-think their relationship with Israel in order to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict. But with the youth revolution moving quickly throughout the Middle East, it is the traditional Arabists who are scrambling to understand the largely peaceful and economically driven coups on non-democratic regimes. Arab leaders have consistently framed the Palestinian-Israeli issue as an Arab-Israeli issue. They have spent considerable capital trying to convince their publics and Americans that Israeli settlements and Palestinian border issues are the highest priority issues for Arab youth throughout the region.
But the recent tumult in Tunisia and Egypt have proven that Arab youth, like their counterparts in America and elsewhere, want economic freedom and good paying jobs first and foremost. Arabs want and deserve economic and political freedom. And the silent majority must have a stronger voice than the loud radicals trying to take advantage of the current chaos. Washington must stand solidly with the strongest democracy in the region, Israel, and make clear that economic freedom, individual human rights and security are our priority goals.
To understand why her UN engagement strategy was destined to fail, Susan Rice only needs to watch the news to grasp the universality of the impassioned people pleading for greater freedom in the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Bahrain and even Palestine. Maybe then she wouldn’t fall for the canard we consistently hear at the UN that if we could only settle the Israeli problem then all would be right in the region. America should be standing with the Arab youth demanding an end to the status quo. Rice’s actions play into the hands of the self-interested leadership and their UN based support system hoping it all stays the same. If the Arab group brings forward their promised resolution, the U.S. will have to decide if it will veto the resolution or not. The predicament the U.S. finds itself in is much of Rice’s own making.
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.
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.