Today, President Obama will be the first U.S. President to visit Burma. The unprecedented trip is a celebration for the second largest country in Southeast Asia. It’s also a remarkable achievement since Burma only recently held national elections in 2010 after holding the leader of the democratic opposition party, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest for 21 years. 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
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.
When Barack Obama was running for president he committed to leading the United Nations and other countries towards a common global goal. Obama believed that he could speak to allies and dictators directly and charm them into seeing the error of their ways. Since becoming President of the United States, Barack Obama has failed to convince the UN to follow his lead. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, a member of the President’s cabinet, has only been able to pass one resolution (compared to the Bush Administration’s five) on Iran’s illegal nuclear ambition despite the issue being the U.S.’ most important foreign policy goal. Rice also failed to convince Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon to support that one resolution despite 17 months of diplomacy.
Obama and Rice have been unsuccessful in their attempt to convince the Security Council to make progress on international problems they committed to deal with, issues like Sudan, North Korea and the Israeli-Palestinian issues. Recently, Obama and Rice failed to convince Russia, China, India, Germany and Brazil to support a no-fly zone over Libya. Despite all the talk of global unity, team Obama has been wildly ineffective at the UN and scored fewer victories than the Bush team they so heavily derided as unilateralists. This week, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called President Obama’s Libya policy “not very helpful” in an interview with the Financial Times. Most every main stream U.S. media outlet failed to report the former UN leader’s slight.
We learned from Annan this week that White House staffers have called upon him for advice and counsel on how to deal with foreign policy crises. So far, Obama staffers have failed to convince the former Secretary-General of the merits of their slow response to the Middle East revolutions. Samantha Powers, the liberal academic who made a career out of calling for more international intervention, has tried to convince Annan that there is no civil war in Libya and sought his advice and counsel on what to do next. Annan responded by criticizing the White House team’s approach. In speaking with the FT, Annan said:
“And, as I suspected, the rebels will not be ready to talk to Gaddafi. They want Nato to help remove him, and of course, I think eventually probably he will have to go, but you cannot put it upfront the way people are saying: Gaddafi must go. A future Libya without Gaddafi must be part of the negotiations and handled properly. It should be part of the agenda, and this mantra of Sarkozy, Cameron, Gaddafi is one… Obama saying Gaddafi must go. Putting it upfront like that…it’s not very helpful.”
In typical UN double-speak Annan goes on to say “on the other hand, I see their problem…But on the other hand, I think they were right…”
Annan also questions the benefits of liberating Iraq and fails to see any progress made from turning that dictatorship into a developing democracy:
“One of my biggest regrets was the fact that as an institution and an international community we could not stop the war in Iraq. That really was very difficult and very painful. Every fibre in my body felt it was wrong. I spoke to leaders, we spoke to people, we tried… we couldn’t stop it… and we see the results.”
Annan goes on to dismiss accusations that his son, Kojo, benefitted from the UN’s Oil for Food program and told a story how he thought U.S. Ambassador John Bolton was a bully for reminding the Security Council that “Uncle Sam isn’t going to like it (increased UN spending)”. Annan also outrageously links a Mexican Ambassador’s lack of support for the 18th Iraq draft resolution in 2003 with a car accident that killed him more than 18 months after he was recalled for inappropriate comments made about the United States.
Annan said, “On the question of Iraq, some governments showed incredible courage: the way even Mexico and Chile wouldn’t roll over for the US; but the ambassadors paid the price. Both of them were recalled fairly shortly, and in fact the Mexican one died in an accident soon after he got out.”
The Los Angeles Times editorial board can’t get its story straight on the reasons the Senate should pass the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Or maybe it just doesn’t understand the complicated issue and what is at stake. Thursday’s editorial insists that there is bipartisan support for the treaty and that only a few radicals want to kill it and then attacks Senator Jon Kyl from Arizona for not supporting it and “acting not in the interest of the nation but of his party”. Either the treaty has bipartisan support or it doesn’t. Either it’s not a partisan treaty or it is. The editorial board is doing what they claim Senator Kyl is doing – playing politics at the expense of national security. No debate, just name calling. The truth is – the new START Treaty and the timing of pushing it through a lame-duck session of Congress is typical Obama partisanship with the same excuse for failure – “it’s the Republicans fault”. The uber-liberal LA Times editorial board and consistent Obama apologist, however, would rather demonize anyone who doesn’t support the treaty than debate its merit. So much for a rational discussion of national security issues.
In typical form, today’s editorial maligns conservatives John Bolton, John Yoo and Senator Kyl for their concerns over the treaty. But is anyone surprised? The LA Times editorials of late could be written by the Democratic National Committee strategists that consistently applaud the partisan writings. Gone are the days when the editorials inform or bring to light real policy discussions. The editorials are so usual that they are no longer relevant, especially on foreign policy issues. In fact, whoever wrote today’s START Treaty editorial sounds as if they don’t understand the real issues involved in limiting nuclear arms or the research and development that is needed to create defense programs. The writing reads as if someone did a google search and tried to write an editorial from it. There is no discussion of:
- the actual concerns experts have in limiting our nuclear capability at such a dangerous time;
- the restrictions countries face in controlling their borders or stopping the actions of non-state actors;
- the wisdom of striking a deal with a significantly weakened Russia;
- the reasons we would allow the Russians to inspect and learn the latest American technology when they haven’t had the money to develop their own.
The editorial also conveniently leaves out the objections of other Senators that have studied the issue and are compelled to change it or stop it. Surely no one could argue that Ohio Senator George Voinovich and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown are just partisan hacks too? The LA Times editorial just calls names, omits facts and plays politics.
The editorial’s title even claims that all Republicans are just looking to defeat any and all legislation coming from the Obama White House. This cynicism is the problem with politics, not the solution. Residents of Los Angeles deserve better and should demand more from an editorial board that claims to be a serious news outlet. There are very real objections to the new START Treaty – but you won’t read about those concerns on the editorial page of the LA Times.
After 17 months of diplomacy, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice was only able to get 12 of the 15 countries on the United Nations Security Council to vote to place increased sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons. Yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, 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 poor performance look better isn’t factual. After so much hype about President Barack Obama’s foreign policy engagement strategy, the Obama UN resolution was remarkably weak, took too long to get and received less support than Bush’s team got in producing FIVE Security Council resolutions on Iran.
Wednesday’s 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. In September 2008, President George W. Bush and his team wrote, negotiated and forced a vote of the 15 nations that sit on the Council. That resolution passed unanimously, including with the support of Russia and China. It was one of three Iran resolutions the Bush team got passed unanimously. Rice would lead you to believe otherwise. 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.
While the Obama team continues to tout their global fame, their popularity failed to convince Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon from voting for the sanctions resolution — despite 17 months of diplomacy. 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.
Barack Obama has been a law professor longer than he has done any other job. As an expert in Constitutional Law, he learned to intellectualize issues and map out ways to make change on paper. But Obama has very little experience dealing with issues outside the classroom or committee room. The 55 day oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a perfect study in the president’s intellectual strategy failing to produce results. Through a plethora of White House meetings with experts theorizing how the oil pipeline can be turned off, the Obama team is instructing BP rather than taking action itself. On Iran, there is some logic to the argument that we should not be afraid to speak to dictators. But the diplomatic reality is that dictators, like exploded pipelines, don’t play by rational rules.
During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Obama explained that he would speak directly to dictators like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them…is ridiculous,” he said. This argument makes sense only if you assume that the United States is just another country with no more influence than the next. And since we know that President Obama doesn’t believe America is exceptional, it makes sense to him.
But the 17 months of the Obama Presidency have proven that it actually does matter what America says – and to whom. The U.S. failed to strongly confront the Iranian regime with tough talk or multilateral diplomacy for 17 months, giving the Islamic Republic time and space to continue enriching uranium. The Administration’s delay and weakness also gave Russia, China, Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon a strong signal that the U.S. wouldn’t be leading the charge to isolate Iran, nor punish its bad behavior. The message to the world was very loud: America isn’t exceptional and you are free to ignore its wishes. Without American leadership, and yes, consequences, allies like Brazil and Turkey end up cutting their own deals with dictators like Ahmedinejad. And China and Russia are allowed to carve out economic contracts that circumvent UN demands and international sanctions.
Also during the 2008 campaign, Obama routinely called for more diplomacy and more international troops in Afghanistan. As last week’s UN vote shows, 17 months of more diplomacy from the diplomat in Chief achieved very little. Obama’s charm offense has also yet to convince our allies to give additional troops to help the Afghans, pass the Copenhagen Consensus, rally support for a no-fly zone in Sudan and put missiles in Eastern Europe. The facts show that the Bush style that Obama routinely ridiculed and derided produced better results than his exaggerated diplomacy has achieved. Bush lost two countries’ support in five Iran resolutions; Obama lost three countries’ support in one resolution.
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.
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.
Jerry Yang Should Follow Sergey Brin’s Lead in China
Jerry Yang spent the first eight years of his life experiencing China firsthand. Born Yáng Zhìyuǎn in 1968 Taiwan, Yang and his family personally knew the limits of their freedom. But Yang’s father presumably wanted more for his son. While China offered limited opportunities for a child from a lower-middle class family, the U.S. presented limitless options. But the co-founder of Yahoo, and one of the most successful and well-known Chinese-Americans, has missed an opportunity to speak out on behalf of the people in the country of his birth. In fact, as one of the modern day creators of electronic communications, Yang has recently disappointed thousands of Chinese seeking greater freedoms by not pushing the multi-million dollar company he created to follow Google’s lead and make the Internet more accessible — without censorship — to the people of China.
Around the same time Yang immigrated to the United States, a young man from Moscow also came with his family to a freer society, this time from Communist Russia. Sergey Brin, whose family, too, experienced firsthand the limits of a controlling government and the new freedoms of living in America, arrived in the United States in 1979 at the age of 6. Yang, by then, was 11. No one knew in the late 1970’s that a young Chinese-American in California and a young Russian-American in Maryland would forever change how the world communicated. Brin grew up to cofound Google and directly compete with Yang’s Yahoo.
But Brin, perhaps recalling his own youth or his parents’ stories of a controlling government, led Google to recently announce it would no longer allow the government of China to automatically censor Chinese Google searches. In an overdue but courageous move, Google has taken a stand against Communist China. Google stepped out and made a bold move in the country of Yang’s birth. And Yahoo didn’t follow.
Yang and Brin are millionaire competitors with more in common than just large bank accounts from search engines they created. They’ve both experienced the repression of dictatorial regimes. So it is perplexing, particularly to the Chinese people and to human rights activists, that Yahoo hasn’t followed Google’s lead. While Brin partnered with his chief executive to make a stand for freedom, Yang appears to be either silent or silenced in attempts to steer Yahoo’s current CEO, Carol Bartz, in the right direction.
The question being asked by many human rights activists is what will Yahoo do, if anything? There is no question that Google will surely lose customers and take a financial hit for standing up to the government censors in China. But will Yahoo take advantage of Google’s situation by aggressively marketing their products and services to the millions of Chinese worried about government interference in their lives? Will Yahoo increase their market share in China at the expense of Google’s brave human rights step?
There remains an incredible opportunity for Yahoo to follow Google and send a powerful one-two punch to the Chinese government. China understands economics more than most countries and is usually moved to increase freedoms when the Yuan is directly involved. Imagine if Yahoo followed Google’s lead and created a tidal wave of information that flowed over the tops of government censors in Beijing. Billions of people would be affected. Literally, billions.
For Yahoo and Yang there is much more at stake than just profits. Every once in awhile brave companies step out and act in ways that move customers and shareholders to also act in good faith. Altruism, especially involving basic freedoms, can be what share holder’s value most. Especially when their leaders know firsthand what it’s like to live without them.
Richard Grenell is a Yahoo shareholder and served as the United States Spokesman at the UN from 2001-2008.
Obama’s Gamble To Talk Iran Out of a Nuclear Weapon Has Failed
Let’s face it; President Barack Obama’s hope for a dialogue with dictators was a naïve gamble to begin with. Even many people in his own party thought it was an academic exercise from an inexperienced law professor that wasn’t rooted in reality. But during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama was on one side of the argument of what to do about Iran and Hillary Clinton and John McCain were on the other. Obama championed the idea that he could rally the international community to do more to isolate the Government of Iran and that he could sit down with its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to convince him that he should give up the illegal pursuit of a nuclear bomb. Clinton and McCain, however, advocated for a tougher approach that included immediate new sanctions, using The White House bully-pulpit and possible military action. While Obama believed that he could convince Ahmadinejad of the error of his ways through direct dialogue, Clinton and McCain warned that it was a waste of precious time.
One year later Obama has single-handedly allowed the Iranians more than a year of unfettered progress toward a nuclear weapon with less pressure and inquiry from the international community. Even the slow-moving, state-the-obvious International Atomic Energy Agency announced this week that it fears Iran is working toward a nuclear warhead to go along with its undisclosed uranium enrichment activities. While Obama experimented with his classroom thesis of talking dictators out of their nuclear pursuits, many in the international community celebrated the fact that they weren’t being confronted by the United States with the lingering Iran problem. From Cairo to Berlin, the world celebrated Obama’s perceived world peace and even gave him the Nobel Prize. The Iranians, meanwhile, continued to build a nuclear weapon. While Obama did his world-wide victory lap, the Iranian Government celebrated their freedom. And although the United States has been negotiating with Iran for more than 30 years, Obama has been acting like this nation has never tried diplomacy. It is dangerous for a President to believe that his personality is so different from previous leaders’ that people will change their course of action just because of who is asking.
But recently, the President has been trying something new. “The next step is sanctions,” President Obama said on February 9. The problem with the President’s latest pronouncement is that the next step WAS sanctions – 14 months ago. Obama missed his opportunity to crank up the heat on Tehran and send the Government of Iran the message that the world cannot wait for it to decide an appropriate time to give up its illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons. Over the last 14 months, the U.S. should have been enforcing the existing UN sanctions, ratcheting up the pressure with new penalties, urging the Europeans to abide by the current financial restrictions and supporting the opposition inside Iran. Now, a new round of sanctions and the inevitable protracted process getting to a UN vote may play into the Iranian’s hopes for more time. UN sanctions will take months of consistent pressure. To begin a UN sanctions process now will only compound the dangerous mistakes Obama has already made.
And his UN Ambassador, Susan Rice, may be too weak to negotiate a Security Council resolution on Iran. Shockingly, Obama and Rice haven’t produced a single UN Security Council resolution on Iran since they’ve been in office. Putting Rice up against the Iranians or even the Chinese or Europeans should give every American a cause for concern. Rice is much more at home in an empty Security Council chamber with a Vogue Magazine camera across from her than a disagreeable foreign diplomat. This past year, Rice has spent more time in Washington looking to trip up Hillary and take her job than she has spent working the halls of the UN negotiating a resolution on Iran. And like Obama, she has not paid attention to the priority issues. While Rice claims that her cabinet-level job requires more DC face time, in fact, U.S. Mission employees have confirmed that Rice isn’t leading the Iran negotiations from New York or Washington. The State Department in Washington has taken the responsibility of writing a UN Resolution away from Rice and is negotiating directly with the French ambassador. American leadership at the UN has vanished. And the United States has never been more popular because of it. While the Iranians have been secretly enriching uranium to 19.75% grade and demonstrating that they have the technology to make a nuclear weapon, the U.S. has spent this last year pressuring China on its carbon emissions and working towards a Copenhagen Accord.
Warnings from China that we need a diplomatic solution for Iran and no new sanctions have scared the Obama Administration into a year-long holding pattern. But Russian and Chinese veto threats are nothing new. Russia and China are experts at whipping the media into an anti-sanctions frenzy. Obama and Rice don’t seem to understand that Russia and China publicly speak one way but rarely stand behind their threats when an issue like Iran is put to a Security Council vote. Neither China nor Russia will call for a vote on Iran sanctions but they can be forced to a veto. Rice should have required a discussion on the Iran issue last year and called for a sanctions vote when the original Obama deadline passed last summer.
Team Obama has spent the year dithering and hoping that doing nothing would allow the opposition inside Iran time to peacefully bring down Ahmadinejad’s government. But while the Obama team nervously talks among themselves, they have missed the opportunity to make the Internet available to the thousands of student protesters inside Iran or to implement harsh sanctions on the government that could push Ahmadinejad over the cliff and deliver the fatal blow to his presidency. The Obama administration should cease making the old, tired claim that American involvement would undermine the opposition by playing into the hands of Ahmadinejad’s re-cycled message that this is an American CIA coup on his presidency. We are well past the point of the Arab world thinking thousands of Iranian students and opposition leaders are in the streets of Tehran because of American enticement. Many in the Arab world would privately cheer if Ahmadinejad’s government fell or if the Iranian nuclear sites were destroyed. The lack of Obama leadership and assistance to the opposition inside Iran is now prohibiting the fall of a dictatorship on the brink. When White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs complains more often about former Vice President Dick Cheney than about Ahmadinejad it sends the wrong message to the Iranians, Chinese and Russians.
Team Obama’s robotic and bland pronouncements citing general themes and re-cycled talking points from the Bush Administration will not stop Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapon. It is time for even Obama to admit that he failed to convince the Iranians to give up their illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons and has failed to motivate the cheering crowds of Germany and Egypt to do more than celebrate the kinder, gentler, weaker American President. There may still be time to make sure Iran doesn’t acquire the nuclear weapons that they will surely use, but it will require quick and sustained action by the White House. An immediate combination of paralyzing UN sanctions, aggressive support for the struggling opposition inside Iran, firm pressure on Europeans to implement the current financial sanctions and a credible use of a military deterrence must all be realized – and soon.
New Study Suggests U.S. Ambassador Rice Isn’t Engaging the UN
We actually heard from Susan Rice more during the presidential campaign when she was a foreign policy adviser to then-candidate Barack Obama than we have over the last year, when she has been representing us at the UN. It has been just over one year since Rice was confirmed by the United States Senate to be the Permanent Representative to the UN and she so far has been wildly inattentive in New York. While Rice has been active in the social scene of Washington and The White House, a new study released by the uber-serious Security Council Report suggests that this past year has been the most inactive Security Council since 1991. 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 that 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. She has instead opted to spend time networking in Washington and making nice with her colleagues in New York. While other foreign Ambassadors speak fondly of Rice and her easy ways, she has been a weak negotiator for the American people.
This lack of American leadership has resulted in the general Security Council inactivity spotlighted in the new study by the Columbia University-affiliated 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.”
Rice has been spending several days a week in Washington with her larger than normal DC-based staff and spending less time with the 200-plus employees who work for her in New York. While Rice launched her tenure 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 recent 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.
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 and spend taxpayer dollars. The Security Council Report also highlights the fact that fewer decisions were made by the Security Council in 2009 than in previous years. Tough decisions are never popular to make and even less popular to force upon the UN. But the American people expect their representative to utilize the UN to further America’s priority issues and demand that their money is spent wisely.
For Rice, the UN budget reform efforts started by the Bush Administration have been too controversial to continue. Rice has avoided tough negotiations and public feuds and has made little to no effort to engage her colleagues on reforming the UN budget process. 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 even a messy public fight with other countries looking to spend American taxpayers’ dollars.
According to several UN veteran reporters and some US Mission staff, Rice has been missing from crucial negotiations on Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium, too. She’s failed to build on Bush Administration progress on sanctioning Iran. While the Russians and Chinese have historically complained publicly about a vote forced upon them, in the end they voted for such resolutions. Despite multiple deadlines missed by the Iranian government, Rice and her team have so far been unsuccessful in getting a single sanctions resolution. The irony that the French are tougher than the Americans on the Iran issue has prompted former Bush Administration officials to say, “thank God for the French”.
Although Obama and Rice campaigned on the promise to restore America’s reputation internationally, they have chosen the easy path of popularity over progress. Ambassadors will always be loved at the UN when they ignore the important debates and discussions that will keep America strong and safe. It is short-sighted and dangerous to choose likability over the safety and security of those who actually pay your salary. And one sure way to weaken the UN is to placate it, neglect it and marginalize it, as Rice has done this past year. The UN and the American people deserve better.
Where Has Susan Rice Been This Past Year?
This week marks the one year anniversary of Susan Rice’s confirmation by the United States Senate to represent the American people at the United Nations. Over the past 12 months, the U.S. has faced some serious foreign policy challenges such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s ongoing nuclear weapons’ tests, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, freezing terrorists’ assets world-wide and now the on-going disaster in Haiti. But while the UN struggles to find common ground on these and other important issues, Susan Rice has chosen to spend several days of the work week over the last year in Washington, DC hanging out at the White House and not engaging seriously in New York at the UN.
Rice started off 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. It was this silly piece that first signaled to the UN reporters and diplomats that Rice was in New York to have fun and participate in the events that Upper East Side diplomats do. While Rice does commute from Washington, DC every week, she lives in the penthouse of the Waldorf Astoria when in New York. She also has the largest Washington, DC office and staff of any U.S. Ambassador to the UN in history. She regularly attends White House social functions appearing as the Disney character “Goofy” at this year’s White House Halloween Party and attended multiple Christmas Parties at The White House this holiday season.
While Rice, like all Democrat-appointed US Ambassadors to the UN, also serves in the President’s cabinet, she has nevertheless been absent at many crucial Security Council meetings in New York during some of the world body’s most turbulent times. Rice was even missing from this week’s Security Council debate and vote to add new Peacekeepers to a beleaguered UN operation in Haiti. According to several UN veteran reporters and some US Mission staff, Rice has been missing from crucial negotiations on Iran too. They say that when Rice does attend UN negotiations, she is all too willing to avoid confrontation. The Permanent Members of the Security Council – the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and China – rely on American leadership to drive issues to a close and force votes. While the Permanent Members historically complain publicly about being forced to vote or meet on certain issues, without one country driving issues to completion the UN Members will keep talking or find ways to continue fruitless discussions. After spending 8 years inside the UN and watching the Security Council debate a plethora of issues, I can personally attest to the fact that an effective American Ambassador cannot worry about being the most popular person in the room. Forcing an end to a UN debate and calling for the Security Council to vote on an issue is never popular.
Over the last year, Rice has avoided tough negotiations and public feuds at the UN and has subsequently produced very few UN resolutions on America’s priority issues. While other foreign Ambassadors speak fondly of Rice and her ability to make nice at the UN, she has been a weak negotiator for the American people. Many UN veterans have indicated that Rice’s lack of leadership on the Iranian issue in particular has forced the French Ambassador to pick up the slack in trying to forge a new Security Council resolution to increase sanctions. The irony that the French are tougher than the Americans on the Iran issue has not been lost on career State Department officials.
During the Bush Administration, much to the dismay of many UN members, the United States delegation passed several sanctions resolutions on Iran for their continued uranium enrichment. The Russians and Chinese, in particular, complained publicly about a vote forced upon them, but in the end they voted for the UN sanctions resolution. Rice and her team have so far been unsuccessful in getting even one single sanctions resolution despite having given multiple deadlines to the Iranian Government.
Rice’s weak and sporadic attention to U.S. priority issues actually damages the UN’s credibility by sending the message that U.S. tax dollars can be spent without regard to effectiveness. Americans have always demanded that the UN reform its bloated system and it has fallen to the American Ambassador to the UN to spearhead that reform. Under Rice’s leadership, the U.S. delegation has been astonishingly quiet on UN budget and reform issues. While Peacekeeping operations continue to be expanded without challenge and the UN Budget dramatically increased, Rice and her team have drawn few lines in the sand with the UN. Not surprisingly, Rice has chosen to abandon a messy public fight with other countries looking to spend American taxpayers’ dollars. The U.S. taxpayer pays 22% of the UN’s total budget and 26% of its Peacekeeping budget – more than $1 Billion every year. While the Bush Administration had some success in starting a top to bottom review of every UN mandate and program, the Rice team has dropped the effort altogether. On November 19, 2009, the U.S. Government’s General Accounting Office issued a report questioning how some of the $330 million the U.S. gave to the UN Office for Project Services’ was spent, including a citation of $200,000 to renovate a guest house. So far, Rice and her team have done very little to follow up on this and other questionable budget issues. Demanding UN reform won’t endear you to other Ambassadors, but the American people expect it.
Rice often says that she is different than her predecessors and chooses to socialize and engage her UN colleagues quietly. But the irony is that engaging the world body, as John Bolton did, gives the American people the confidence that our Representatives at the UN are watching how the money is spent and how effective the programs are being implemented. Fighting for quality UN international peacekeeping programs only strengthens the UN and allows it to do more. Reforming the UN makes it more effective and ensuring that the UN spends our money wisely enables it and us to do more for suffering people around the world. One sure way to weaken the UN is to marginalize it, placate it and not engage it as Rice has done this past year.
Perhaps the best example of how Susan Rice views her responsibilities at the UN this year is seen in her revamp of the Bush era website for her office. While previous U.S. Ambassadors to the UN have prominently displayed the American flag on their website and proudly displayed the site in red, white and blue coloring, Rice has changed the site to UN Blue, added a large UN logo and only later added a small American flag after several reporters inquired about the dramatic change and missing American stars and stripes. Rice has gambled this past year that keeping America unengaged at the UN is the best way to be the most popular Ambassador. Unfortunately, though well-liked during her sporadic visits to the UN, Rice has so far been unable to produce any meaningful progress on the world’s most troubling issues.
U.S. Rejects U.N.’s Gay Rights Statement, Cites “Don’t Ask”
A joint statement addressing homophobia and LGBT rights for the first time at the United Nations was tabled Thursday, without the backing of the United States.
“We urge states to take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention,” the draft document read.
The unprecedented gay rights declaration was proposed by the French and read by Argentinean ambassador Jorge Arguello. The nonbinding statement is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
The United States did not sign the statement, but former U.N. spokesman Richard Grenell said the U.S. was hung up on its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which bars out gays and lesbians from serving in the military.
“The fact that the Bush administration hired as many gays and lesbians with top secret security clearances in and of itself means that we are not criminals,” Grenell said. “To later suggest that because of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ we can’t support this resolution flies in the face of real compassion.”
Grenell added that before he left his post in October as the longest-running American spokesman for the United Nations, he explained to State Department officials that the United States should sign the statement immediately, as a means to show the Bush administration is compassionate and accepting. “Yet, they came up with this phony argument that legally they had a problem with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”
Sixty-six of the 192 member countries, including the full European Union, Central African Republic, Brazil, Cuba, Israel, and Japan urged the decriminalization of homosexuality on Thursday to fellow member countries. In addition to the United States, China, Russia, and all of the Arab nations refused to back the statement.
A rival statement, read by Syria, garnered 58 signatures, according to Bloomberg News. Syrian envoy Abdullah al-Hallaq, reading the statement, said homosexuality could “usher into social normalization and possibly the legitimization of many deplorable acts, including pedophilia.”
More than 77 countries find consensual same-sex relations to be a punishable offense, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association. Seven countries — Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen — punish homosexuality by death. (Michelle Garcia, Advocate.com)