Posts tagged ‘hillary clinton’

November 15, 2012

In Defense of Susan Rice

Your eyes do not deceive you; after months of radio silence, this blog is back at least for a short time. As you can see from the About page, there have been quite a few changes on the personal front that led to me going dark for a bit, namely that I’m now blogging full-time over at ThinkProgress. It’s a great job, but sometimes I have a U.N. rant in me that just needs to get out. This is one of those instances.

In the event that you’ve been living under a rock for the last two months, Amb. Susan Rice has been under near constant attack for going on the Sunday shows back on September 16th and laying out what the Administration knew at the time regarding the attack in Benghazi. With the added layer of her likely receiving the nod to become the next Secretary of State when Hillary Clinton steps down in the coming weeks, all eyes have been on her. As a public official, that’s more than fair; what’s not fair is to judge her based on anything other than her record of service.

The ur-example of doing so would be Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of whom have seemed to exposed their own desire to pursue political points over actual facts when it comes to Benghazi. That the two of them have chosen Rice as their whipping boy on Benghazi is, as the President has said, unfair and in my personal opinion borderline cowardice. The United Nations is never a popular institution and to choose to go after its face is to try to exploit that weakness. Moreover, the facts at the time supported Rice’s statements, she was extremely careful in her wording, and those facts came straight from the intelligence community.

In response to the President’s full-throated defense, Sen. Graham snapped back, asking on Sean Hannity’s show last night:

Why did they pick her? If she had nothing to do with Benghazi. She is not in charge of conflict security. She works in the U.N. Why nobody from the State Department. I believe she’s a close political ally of the President. She went on national TV, four or five days after the attack, when there is no credible information that the video scenario was real and she either through incompetence or an intentional effort to mislead the American people, tried to spin a story that would help the President because if it was true that this was an al-Qaeda attack, long-time in the making, that killed our ambassador and three other brave Americans, so much for the story, we killed bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s on the run, being dismantled.

That nobody on the right seems to be able to draw the connection between Rice’s role in the launch of the Libya operation, at the United Nations of all places, and the Administration choosing her as the spokesperson in light of the attack upon Benghazi doesn’t speak well to their reasoning skills. Rice has proven herself time and again an eloquent speaker with an ease on camera and possessed a wealth of knowledge on Libya. Why not choose her?

Almost more discouraging is when slams against Rice shroud themselves with air of being actual inquiries into her record. Richard Grenell, briefly national security spokesman for Romney for President and former U.S. Mission to the U.N. spokesman under the Bush administration, has a piece out today where he runs through Susan Rice’s time at Turtle Bay and finds her lacking. The problem with his analysis is his glossing over of facts and nuances in favor of a demagogic desire to rip down Rice before she can ascend to Foggy Bottom.

Among the main contentions that Grenell has with Rice is that she built up to be far more effective at the U.N. than in actuality. His primary evidence for this claim? That the Administration has only passed a singular resolution on Iran since taking office in 2009, compared to the five in President Bush’s eight years:

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 almost 30 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, Rice lost more support with her one resolution than the previous five Iran resolutions combined.  She may claim she has repaired relationships with other countries but the evidence shows she’s gotten less support than the team she ridicules.

Let’s dig into this slightly. On the surface, we can see that comparing the one resolution in the last four years to the five in the Bush years has an issue in differing time frames; eight years to four doesn’t quite line up for a straight comparison. In addition, we have to examine the contents of the resolutions. Those passed by the Bush Administration were certainly laudable in the support they gained, but were incremental scale-ups in terms of actions taken. Each one built off of the previous, ratcheting up the penalties for first the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, then the Iranian government writ large. By the time the Obama administration took office, the international community, namely Russia and China in this instance, had been led almost as far as they were willing to go in terms of Iran. What Resolution 1929 managed to achieve was probably as far as the Security Council will be able to punish Iran, barring the use of sweeping trade embargoes of the sort that devastated Iraq in the late nineties or a new escalation by Iran in the face of sanctions currently in place.

Now, turning to Grenell’s complaint about the number of votes that Resolution 1929 received  we can also see that his cries of failure don’t quite carry water. The most important thing to note in terms of 1929’s support is that it received yes votes from all five Permanent Members of the Security Council. Not abstentions, with their tacit level of support demonstrated by deigning passage. Solid yes votes, affirming the contents, including an arms embargo of the sort that Russia and China have typically shied from, without any trepidation. The no votes, and singular abstention, that Grenell notes have little to do with the effectiveness of Rice’s lobbying and everything to do with the make-up of the Security Council in 2010.

Lebanon voted against the resolution, an unsurprising turn of events considering the history between it and Iran. Likewise unsurprising is the opposition to the resolution from Brazil and Turkey. During 2010, Brazil and Turkey were trying to capitalize on their position as “rising Powers” to make a more solid mark on the international security sphere. In seeking to be seen as distinct from Western powers, the two states sought a separate peace with Iran, attempting to develop a solution that all-sides could agree with. The U.S. reacted coolly to this freelancing, gaining the reaction that is evident in the voting records. Unless Grenell supported the Turko-Brazilian initiative over the strong sanctions won by Rice, I’m uncertain what he expected the outcome to be.

Grenell also faults Rice for the failure to secure a resolution on Syria for months on end:

UN members, not surprisingly, prefer a weak opponent.  Rice is therefore popular with her colleagues.  It may explain why she ignored Syria’s growing problems for months.

Speaking out and challenging the status quo is seldom cheered at the UN.  Her slow and timid response left the United States at the mercy of Russia and China, who ultimately vetoed a watered down resolution an unprecedented three times.

Among the things left unstated by Grenell is that the Russians and Chinese vetoed three resolutions not because of Susan Rice’s weakness, but because they believed that it was in their best interest to do so, the same reason why the Bush Administration vetoed so many watered-down resolutions on Israel. Further, unless he believes that Rice was the designer of Syrian policy across the Federal government, it’s hard to see how he finds her at fault her. It’s also surprising that he seems to be lauding the Chinese and Russian models of decisive action at the U.N., which in most cases amounts to be obstructionist in nature, with few positive suggestions to bring to the table.

The rest of Grenell’s argument is equally as vacuous, picking as his evidence articles where he himself is cited or heavily quoted. Among those instances of utter failure that he lists: not being present for Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Red Line” speech at the General Assembly this year and having her deputy attend several meetings where Israel was the subject. More specious, he calls out Rice for not speaking out against Libya’s election to the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2010. Given that at the time Qadhafi was seen as a rehabilitated leader who was attempting to make his way back into the international community, and that Susan Rice led the charge to have Libya removed the following year, Grenell falls flat.

This isn’t to suggest that Ambassador Rice is far and away the most qualified candidate to take over the 7th floor office at State. There are plenty of reasons to be unsupportive of her potential candidacy, including her well-documented sharp tongue and commanding personality. But those have to do with her actual qualifications to be Secretary of State, unbiased by partisanship and slander. If the President does choose to nominate Rice, I will be somewhat disappointed. But only because it means she won’t be roaming the halls of Turtle Bay as frequently.

January 31, 2012

UNSC and Syria: Getting warmer…

In a three hour open session, the United Nations Security Council heard the strongest push yet for the passage of a resolution on Syria. Though lacking in the drama that many predicted in the “Super Bowl” of the Security Council, the meeting did make somewhat clearer the demands that would have to be met before a vote on the draft resolution tabled by Morocco.

Negotiations are ongoing surrounding a few key preambulatory clauses and one operative, as seen in red here. Some were to be expected, such as the clause expressing concern at the flow of weapons into Syria. But the harshest pushback from Russia has been on operative clause seven, the part of the text mirroring the League’s roadmap for political transition in Syria.

Ostensibly, this meeting’s purpose was the hear briefings from the Arab League’s Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim, in his role as the chair of the League of Arab States’ committee on Syria, on the recently postponed Observer Mission and to push for the Security Council to take up the text of its January 22 resolution in full. In actuality, the meeting was a free-for-all dogpile on Russia to yield its intransigence.

The diplomatic big guns were in the room, with the Foreign Ministers of Portugal, Germany, and Morocco present. And then in a class above that, the Really Big Guns: French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alaine Juppe, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs William Hague, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In a pattern that seems familiar to those who watched the Libyan debate, there’s a clear “good cop/bad cop” dynamic by the West at play.  Hague and Juppe played their roles perfectly, with Juppe throwing the word “scandalous” around liberally as they wailed on Syria. Despite the pressure employed by the two, Hague emphasized that the draft in question was under Chapter VI, not Chapter VII of the Charter.

Clinton’s good cop was also pitch perfect, as she managed to clearly delineate the difference between a “political handover” and “regime change”, no easy feat. The US has gotten quite good at portraying itself as the level-headed one in the room, particularly whenever Rice or Clinton are speaking.

I could go on at length about just how very, very bad Syrian Permanent Representative Bashar Ja’afari was in this debate. So I will. He was clearly outmatched, starting off by quoting Syrian poetry, leading me to wonder if the mild fever I have had just crested. Ja’afari leaned heavily on his government’s own particular spin on the situation affecting Syria. For example, in quoting the Arab League monitor’s report, he correctly pointed out that Paragraph 71 states that there is an armed opposition that wasn’t taken into account by the Arab League in its original resolution. But in the very next sentence, the report stresses that the armed opposition sprung up because of the regime’s violence.

The man everyone was watching, however, wasn’t the Representative from Damascus. Instead, all eyes were on Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN. Churkin was there in place of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was in Australia instead of New York as was rumored today.

Despite utilizing the full range of his usual rhetoric, Churkin made no explicit veto threats during the meeting itself. Instead Russia did a much, much better job of defending the actions of the Assad regime than Ja’afari did, pressing for a need for both parties to meet in Moscow to come to a political solution themselves. In the press stakeout after the meeting, Churkin stated that the Arab League is in the driver’s seat on Syria. He extended the metaphor, saying “sometimes when in the driver’s seat, as the Arab League is, you step too hard on the accelerator, and wind up in a ditch”.

Nothing new was truly learned during the speeches, but it does seem that Russia and China are running low on excuses for not supporting the draft tabled by Morocco. Neither cited any real opposition to the actual content of the resolution, nor did they really push back on the statements of the Secretary-General of the Arab League and the Qatari Prime Minister. Being customarily opaque, China, in its speech, said that it “supports” Russia’s draft as tabled several weeks ago, while it merely “noted” the Moroccan text.

In all, the most likely result of this diplomatic blitz is slowly moving away from a Russian veto. That is, provided Moscow can be persuaded that the major concerns with the draft that it’s citing? Don’t actually exist in the text. Nowhere in the text exists explicit economic sanctions nor military intervention authorizations, despite the ample protests by Russia, China, India and Pakistan.

Those four, along with South Africa, make up the five states likely to oppose or abstain on the vote on this resolution. The most substantive of their concerns center in on the idea that actions and recommendations that are permissible at the level of the Arab League may not be the role of the Security Council. This argument is specious at best, as there is, in fact, much more a chance of international spillover from an escalation in Syria than there ever was in Libya clearly marking it as a situation at risk of disturbing international peace and security. In any case, if the draft actually manages to pass through with operative clause 7 intact, I’ll be extremely impressed. But it will be setting for the stage for another, even more difficult, battle in just fifteen days.