Finally. Her predecessor at the United Nations looked ridiculous and in turn the United States looked feeble going to the Security Council three times on Syria, only to be rebuffed by Russia each time. The new ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, had enough of that pathetic demonstration of U.S. fecklessness.
So Thursday, as Reuters reported, she changed course:
“Our considered view, after months of efforts on chemical weapons and after 2-1/2 years of efforts on Geneva (peace talks), the humanitarian situation is that there is no viable path forward in this Security Council,” she said. . . .
Power said the 15-nation council failed to live up to its role as the guardian of international peace and security.
“Unfortunately for the past 2-1/2 years, the system devised in 1945 precisely to deal with threats of this nature did not work as it is supposed to,” Power said. “It did not protect peace and security for the hundreds of Syrian children who were gassed to death on August 21.”
“The system has protected the prerogatives of Russia, the patron of a regime that would brazenly stage the world’s largest chemical weapons attack in a quarter century while chemical weapons inspectors sent by the United Nations were just across town,” she said. . . .
“In the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities, including as a party to the chemical weapons convention.”
Well, good for her. In her few weeks in the job she has managed to give voice to the truism that the United Nations is no substitute for the United States. The president we remember all too well came to office (and his Secretary of State John Kerry tried to get into office) with the fantasy that the United States could defer to international bodies, need not act on its own and could just fade into the crowd, the “international community” as he likes to call the illusion of commonality among various nations which in fact have conflicting values and aims.
Speaking in clear and unequivocal tones, Power joins a list of recent ambassadors (e.g. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jeane Kirkpatrick, John Bolton) who did not seek consensus but rather clarity — about what the United States stands for, about its commitments to universal values and about which countries stand with us and which do not. Looked at in this fashion, the United Nations becomes not simply a maddening forum for tyrants to pose as respectable players but an opportunity for the United States to articulate to friends and foes its policies and values.
Let us hope this is not an aberration but the beginning of two phenomena we haven’t seen in the Obama administration.
First, conduct in the United Nations (as should be the case anywhere) must have consequences, whether it is Russia vetoing a Syrian resolution or the Palestinian Authority breaking numerous treaties to seek recognition unilaterally for a Palestinian state or countries taking pot shots at Israel. Once we make that clear, then there might be a slight diminution of anti-West, anti-Israel bashing. We have to be able to identify miscreants, call them out and then hold them accountable in some visible way.
Second, this president has to come to terms that, like it or not, we are the indispensable nation and, yes, the world’s policeman. We can choose when to exercise our influence and whether to use hard or soft power, but we can’t recede from the world stage and — oh, how I detest the phrase — “nation build at home.” We have built a nation; our task is to revive it and maintain our status as a superpower. In blowing the whistle on Russia and making clear that the United Nations as an institution is fatally flawed when it matters most, Power took a big step in the right direction.
Now perhaps she can work on making the rest of our foreign policy apparatus function better — starting with the president.