Archive for July, 2012

July 26, 2012

Stranger in a Strange Land: Romney’s Overseas Adventures

This post is most certainly not about the United Nations. For those of you who came upon this blog once I’d taken in that direction, you probably don’t know that it started out as a way for me to vent about international relations writ large and the US’ foreign policy. So, we’re going to take it back to the roots and do a little bit on a topic near and dear to me: Willard Mitt Romney.

Today marked the opening leg of Mitt Romney’s No Apologies/You Really Like Me World Tour. In planning this jaunt, the Romney for President team made sure to pull out all the stops in making sure that things went well. The trip would only take the candidate to firm US allies, whom Governor Romney could accuse the President of ignoring. In the United Kingdom, Romney would be able to highlight his experience in saving the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Poland would be a chance to slam President Obama on his Russian “reset”. The crown jewel of the voyage would allow Mitt the chance to really hammer home how much better a friend to Israel he would be than Barack.

The trip to London was off to a rocky start as a piece in the Daily Telegraph has an unnamed Romney aide quoted as saying “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special” and that the “White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.. While this Anglo-Saxon claim might not be as historically accurate as depicted, it leaves the viewer wondering what Gov. Romney would bring to that relationship that President Obama doesn’t. This special relationship though would be a new attraction for Mitt, who in his book No Apologies doesn’t speak well of the island.

Gov. Romney hoped to put all that behind him and kicked off this morning with an interview with Brian Williams to help set the mood:

But he told US television there were “disconcerting” signs about Britain’s readiness. “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” he said. “There are a few things that were disconcerting: the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”

The comments weren’t well received by his hosts in the UK. Prime Minister David Cameron, who Mitt met with earlier today, has rejected the idea that Britain isn’t prepared. Mayor of London Boris Johnson later whipped a crowd into a fury by telling them, “There’s a guy named Mitt Romney who thinks we’re not ready. Are you ready?” The answer was a resounding ‘yes’. It’s also worth pointing out that both Johnson and Cameron are members of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.

The Israeli leg was scheduled to include a fundraising dinner on July 29th. The problem: that falls directly on the Jewish “Day of Mourning”, a day of fasting and prayer. While the campaign has made clear that the fundraiser will be held an hour after the breaking of the fast, the optics involved still aren’t the best. Adding onto Mitt’s woes is that in an attempt to block the enthusiasm Mr. Romney’s visit to Israel will generate, the White House is launching a counter-offensive. While Gov. Romney is in the Levant, the White House has President Obama signing the Israel-United States Cooperation Act, a boost to already strong US-Israeli ties. Maybe Poland will have a better reception for Governor Romney?

All of this though is merely having some fun knocking the Governor for style points. We can’t read overly much into these foibles, as the personal relationship that a President has with other Heads of Government is important, but by no means the only indicator of a successful foreign policy. Instead, the reason that we focus on these missteps by the Romney campaign are because they are quite literally all that we have to go on at this point.

The foreign policy statements from Gov. Romney have been exceedingly sparse. In his most recent speech, he offered up plenty of rhetoric, but nothing in the way of solid proposals for what he would do differently than the incumbent. Those things he has suggested in the past, such as building up the armed forces, directly contradict other things he has put forward, such as lowering taxes while cutting the deficit.

This trip will surely be compared to the Obama campaign’s world swing during the ’08 election, and not positively. The Romney camp will spin it that just because the Governor doesn’t have throngs of people cheering for him doesn’t mean the trip wasn’t successful. I’d point out that then Senator Obama also gave detailed policy speeches during his time abroad. Mitt’s itinerary has what was once a major foreign policy speech downgraded to remarks in Jerusalem. The foreign policy crowd is pretty attentive, Governor. Give us something real to discuss, and maybe we’ll stop talking about the little things.

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July 25, 2012

Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game in Syria

After a week of contentious debates, the United Nations Security Council barely managed to come up with language to renew the mandate of the UN Supervisory Mission in Syria (UNSMIS). The resolution that was approved unanimously is a shining example of the negotiations that often produce documents that appeal to the lowest common denominator. Its few brief paragraphs have UNSMIS continuing for a “final” 30 days, with the only chance for further extension coming from a positive report from the Secretary-General that violence has dropped and that the Security Council agrees with that assessment. So did the United Nations’ mission fail in Syria, like in several other ill-fated missions in the 1990s?

According to Herve Lasdous, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, over half of the three hundred observers assigned to UNSMIS have returned to their parent countries.  As the new leader of the Mission, Lt. General Babacar Gaye, took the reins from Lt. General Robert Mood of a significantly shrunken contingency, telling the press that he was taking over “in a very difficult situation”:

“During our last trip in Damascus… we witnessed some decrease in the violence, but unfortunately since that we had to suspend our activities,” he said.

“We are back with the hope that reason will prevail, that there will be in this tunnel some light that we can seize and obtain less violence,” he said.

“We have 30 days and around today 27 to go, so every opportunity will be seized to alleviate the suffering of the population. This is our main concern.”

Meanwhile, the violence in Syria continues to escalate; footage of a fixed-wing plane bombing Aleppo surfaced yesterday, a rarely utilized tactic in the regime’s toolbox in suppressing the uprising.

Resolution 2059 also suggested that UNSMIS take into consideration the suggestions put forward in the Secretary-General’s first report on the mission. In that report, the proposal was made to shift the priorities of UNSMIS’ observers from patrolling and attempting to observe a cease-fire that no longer exists to providing the good offices of the United Nations to allow for dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition. Such a shift would maximize the efforts of the remaining blue berets in Damascus, while providing a focal point for continuing diplomatic efforts. Unfortunately, the mission only has enough time to successfully wind down, rather than being able to affect any further change.

So what to take from the about face in Syria? Many will leap to the conclusion that the United Nations is useless, confirming their previous biases towards the institution. Disagreement came from a surprising avenue, in the form of a post by Richard Grenell, former spokesman for the US Mission to the UN during the presidency of George W. Bush, in The Huffington Post on Friday. In his piece, Grenell lays the blame for the failure in the Council at the feet of Russia, claiming that China was merely following Russia’s lead, not on the body itself which actually had the votes to pass the measure. While I disagree the rest of his analysis, which blames the Obama Administration for a lack of a tough policy towards Russia, Grenell’s point that the failure comes not from the body, but two members, stands.

The fact is that after over a year of diplomatic wrangling, it has become clear that barring a mass defection of leadership from the regime, the only way the needle moves on Syria is through a changing of the rules on the ground. Right now, the rules of the game in Syria are as follows:

    • Armed intervention on either side will significantly shift the balance of power;
    • States are unwilling to directly intervene at this time, but will provide arms and funds to either side;
    • Negotiation is seen as a failure by both sides in Syria until such a time that their respective fighters alter the current dynamic

The insertion of UNSMIS into the ring was never significantly likely to affect these rules, not without cooperation from both sides of the conflict. UNSMIS’ goals, and the Annan Plan that they flowed from, were built on the premise that key players would accede to the necessity of a peaceful solution, a premise that faltered quickly. As it stands, the key players now are those actually doing the fighting and those who are providing the material support for that fighting. UNSMIS only falls into a third category, those facilitating diplomacy, preventing it from having the leverage necessary to affect the first two so long as its mandate is limited to observation and reporting.

In the same vein, the expansion of its mandate to include armed defenders would have more closely mirrored the 1990s, when ill-equipped and under-prepared “peacekeepers” were thrust into the middle of hot wars. Even with a Chapter VII-backed mandate, it is unlikely that UNSMIS would have been able to use enough force to avoid Syrian blockades of areas where massacres may have occurred or operate aircraft freely for travel about the country. Rules of Engagement for an expanded mission would be notoriously hard to draft as well; whether UNSMIS would use armed vehicles to avoid civilian attempts to prevent observation is just one of the questions that would have to be answered.  The decision to pull back from a full-scale civil war is a right one.

Overall, the game has just been fundamentally weighed against the UNSMIS since its inception. Prior to the second resolution vetoed by the Russian Federation and China, there was still a glimmer of a chance that the opposition could be convinced that violence was not the means to the ends they wanted. By the time UNSMIS was approved for deployment in Syria, violence was already at the point that their mandate was virtually impossible to fulfill. Despite the difficulties they faced, the observers of UNSMIS pushed forward for as long as they could before their own lack of defense mechanisms forced them to retreat. An observer force just wasn’t the appropriate tool to be used in Syria. Their withdrawal from Syria marks not a defeat of the mission, but an acquiescence to the realities that the mission faced.

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