Posts tagged ‘susan rice’

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.

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December 23, 2011

From Horseshoe Table to Cage Match: Rice v. Churkin in a diplomatic battle royale

It’s been a tough year on the Security Council. I mean that without a trace of irony. There have been several major decisions that have made their way to the Horseshoe Table, and the Council has been in almost constant session year-round it would seem. The last several weeks in particular have been fascinating for UN watchers as the US and Russian ambassadors have been going at each other with the gloves off. No holiday truce can be found between Susan Rice and Vitaly Churkin in Turtle Bay, not this year.

Things first started to heat up earlier this month, in a dispute over whether the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, would be allowed to brief the Council on human rights abuses in Syria at France’s request. Russia and China at first demurred from the proposal, before determining that if Pillay was going to brief under the topic “The Situation in the Middle East”, as this was official issue on the Agenda under which Syria was being discussed, that human rights concerns in Palestine would also have to be addressed:

An hour after Inner City Press first reported the proposal, Russian Ambssador Vitaly Churkin emerged to read a short Council statement. He explained that Pillay’s briefing Monday at 3 pm on “the Middle East” is understood to include Palestine as well as Syria.

Inner City Press asked Churkin if the briefing would be closed, and if Pillay would be questioned about Palestine. Churkin said he expected Pillay would hear what he was saying and that, yes, the briefing would be closed.

He said with a smile that at one point Russia proposed the briefing be open, but that those who had initially wanted it open then decided that it should be closed.

Russia and China eventually discarded their demand, but not before Russia nearly forced a procedural vote on the matter, a highly unusual move for allowing a UN official to brief the UNSC.

Things have come to a head in recent days. This week,  The New York Times released an article indicating that NATO’s claims of no civilian casualties as a result of its bombing campaign in Libya were exaggerated; rather than zero, the death toll as a result of NATO’s assault on Col Qaddafi may have cost the lives of between forty and seventy Libyans. Russia has been pounding NATO for overstepping the bounds of SC/1973 since the bombing campaign was launched, so this was quickly seized as an early Christmas present. At a press stakeout yesterday, Ambassador Churkin let the reporters present know that Russia felt a Council-mandated investigation was in order to determine the extent of damage wrought by NATO.

Ambassador Rice was having none of this:

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who stepped to the microphone after Churkin, said: “Oh, the bombast and bogus claims.”

“Is everyone sufficiently distracted from Syria now and the killing that is happening before our very eyes?” she said.

“I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that this is something of a cheap stunt to divert attention from other issues and to obscure the success of NATO and its partners — and indeed the Security Council — in protecting the people of Libya,” Rice said.

Harsh words? Maybe not on the streets surrounding UN Headquarters, but far sharper than you normally hear outside the Council’s chambers. That tension has simmered over into today, during discussion on a potential Presidential Statement on the League of Arab States’ deployment of monitors to Syria. Normally, such a statement, while requiring unanimity, would not have been difficult to produce. Instead, this afternoon Ambassador Churkin told the press that no statement would be coming. When asked about the dust-up yesterday, Churkin responded:

“We hear that the Obama administration wants to establish a dialogue with the international community in the United Nations, and in the Security Council. If that is to be the case, if this is the intention, really this Stanford dictionary of expletives must be replaced by something more Victorian, because certainly this is not the language in which we intend to discuss matters with our partners in the Security Council.”

Shots. Fired.

Vitaly Churkin: Grinch
Diplomatic? Not really. But impressive Photoshop skills

In retaliation for the frustrating lack of progress on Syria, Mark Kornblau, the Communications Director and head spokesman for the US Mission to the UN, used his previously underutilized Photoshop skills, or those of an intern, to produce an image of Ambassador Churkin cast as The Grinch. Mr. Kornblau then post the image to his personal Twitter account. While I personally found it amusing, I somehow doubt that the Russian Mission will agree.

While less than diplomatic on its forefront, I actually believe that the Security Council is, even in this context, performing one of its most vital functions: a pressure release. The Great Powers that make up the P-5 have this one place where they can all sit together as equals and discuss all matters of international peace and security. Without the Council, as David Bosco argues in his excellent book “Five to Rule Them All”, that ability to come together and air grievances, as is fitting on today as it is Festivus, the likelihood of direct Great Power conflict would have been and would be much higher.

From January 1 until today, the UNSC has struggled to bring together its fifteen members into some semblance of accord on matters of peace and security on even more and greater issues than normal. Tensions get especially tough when you factor in the P-5 and their veto power. But at least they’re talking to each other rather than slugging it out somewhere. So you can’t blame them for getting a little…punchy as the year winds down.