Ambassador Samantha Power’s Swan Song at the United Nations
Eight years of fawning over the UN are coming to the end.
Samantha Power held her farewell press conference as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on January 13th. She used the press conference to follow up on the themes she had previously laid out in her detailed cabinet exit memo and in her remarks at the Security Council’s January 10th open debate on the maintenance of international peace and security.
Ambassador Power trumpeted her view of the importance of the United Nations in addressing global crises and the Obama administration’s purported accomplishments in taking the lead, as she put it in her exit memo, to “leverage UN capabilities in service of international security, making the United States safer and stronger.” In a veiled warning to the incoming Trump administration and to a Congress increasingly disenchanted with the United Nations, Ambassador Power claimed that cutting U.S. funding to the United Nations would be “extremely detrimental” to U.S. interests
Ms. Power acknowledged certain flaws at the UN such as its bloated bureaucracy and gridlock among member states on major issues such as the Syrian conflict. However, she studiously avoided any mention of the corruption scandals that have continued to rock the UN system and its lack of transparency. She also omitted mention of the cholera epidemic introduced by UN peacekeepers, which has killed nearly 10,000 people and for which the UN refused to accept responsibility for several years. Most importantly, Ambassador Power glossed over the incontrovertible fact that the world has become a much more dangerous place during the eight years of the Obama administration and its outsized reliance on the UN. More nations, including our own, are under the constant threat of jihadist terrorism than ever before. Failed states have increased in number, serving as sanctuaries for jihadists. The aggressive Russian bear is resurgent. Iran has become a stronger hegemonic power in the Middle East that continues to fund and arm terrorists, collaborate with North Korea and test missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
The Obama administration has led from behind, while unduly relying on the UN in the naïve belief that it can serve as an effective instrument for protecting and maintaining international peace and security. “The United States needs the UN,” Ambassador Power said. Despite paying lip service to the principle of national sovereignty, the Obama administration has shown willingness on too many occasions to allow the UN to set “international” law and norms on a range of issues. In President Obama’s own words during his final address as president to the UN General Assembly, he has no problem “giving up some freedom of action” and accepting “constraints” in “binding ourselves to the international rules.”
The results of Obama’s wholehearted embrace of the UN has included a small arms treaty that potentially jeopardizes Americans’ Second Amendment protections, the Paris agreement on climate change that can seriously disrupt America’s economically vital energy sector, and the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran, all without proper consent by the United States Senate pursuant to its constitutional treaty approval authority. The Obama administration relinquished control of the U.S. created Internet to a global governance mechanism under UN auspices. The Obama administration encouraged the UN to expand its leadership role in handling the refugee crisis, concurring in UN bureaucrats’ endorsement of more open borders and securing commitments for the admission of many more refugees and migrants. At her press conference, Ambassador Power lauded the UN refugee summit chaired by President Obama last fall, which was used “to double the number of resettlement or legal avenues of admission slots available in the world, including, of course, by increasing our own numbers.”
Ambassador Power did note what she considers to be one of the UN Security Council’s primary shortcomings - the failure, as she explained to reporters, to “use our words more precisely and pinpoint responsibility” where it belongs for violence that violates the principles of the UN Charter. She decried the Security Council’s propensity to engage instead in “obfuscations” and “euphemisms.” She told reporters that “when euphemisms are brought to bear, that can really diminish the cost that a country or an actor pays for violating international norms on which all of us depend.” In her previous remarks to the Security Council on January 10th, Ambassador Power griped that “We use the phrase ‘all parties’ when we actually mean one party.”
Sadly, however, the Obama administration has itself been guilty of engaging in the same kinds of obfuscations and euphemisms that Samantha Power has complained about. For example, repeated use of phrases like “violent extremism” to describe jihadist terrorism obscures the Islamist ideological source of the terrorism.
Moreover, worse than simply failing to “pinpoint responsibility” is placing blame on the wrong party. The Obama administration did just that when it abstained on the infamous Security Council Resolution 2334, allowing it to pass. This anti-Israeli resolution was “precise” only when it wrongly blamed Israel for the failure to reach a two-state solution. The resolution outrageously declared that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” When it came to the resolution’s call to prevent “acts of terror” and “to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric,” the resolution referred elliptically to “both parties.” It did not “pinpoint responsibility” precisely where it belonged – on Palestinian terrorists and the Palestinian leaders who incite and glorify them.
Ambassador Power has denied that the Obama administration had anything to do with the drafting of Resolution 2334. She told reporters that “it is just absolutely false that the United States was the driving force behind this resolution. We didn’t draft the resolution, we didn’t put it forward.” Whether she was telling the truth or not about the Obama administration’s role in drafting the resolution and driving it forward, she cannot deny that the text of the resolution fell far short of the standards of clarity and attribution of responsibility she said should be followed by the Security Council.
In her remarks to the Security Council last December explaining the U.S.’s abstention on Resolution 2334, Ambassador Power said, “We would not have let this resolution pass had it not also addressed counterproductive actions by the Palestinians such as terrorism and incitement to violence.” In her remarks that day, Ms. Power was very specific in criticizing Hamas and Fatah party members for holding up Palestinian terrorists as heroes and using “social media to incite others to follow in their murderous footsteps.” She added that “while President Abbas and his party’s leaders have made clear their opposition to violence, terrorism, and extremism, they have too often failed to condemn specific attacks or condemn the praised heaped upon the perpetrators.” The only problem is that such specific assignment of responsibility for terrorism and incitement to the Palestinians did not make it into the resolution itself. Its abstract references to terrorism and incitement only served to obfuscate the reality of the situation. The resolution did not call out the Palestinian Authority or Hamas by name for committing acts of terror, incitement to violence and glorification of terrorists.
I raised this glaring omission with Ambassador Power at her farewell press conference. I asked her to what extent, in reviewing the text of Resolution 2334 to make sure it was balanced, she had reached out to the Israeli ambassador for his input and whether she had tried to get more specific language into the resolution calling out Hamas and the Palestinian Authority by name for their role in inciting violence and designating terrorists as martyrs.
Ambassador Power dodged the question. Here is her answer: “This was not our resolution, so I think you can probably pose those questions to the people who were negotiating the text.”
The Obama administration has engaged in the romantic fiction that the UN as it is presently structured is worth the billions of dollars we have poured into it annually as well as the enormous amount of futile diplomatic effort the administration has expended there, including by the president and secretary of state. In his first speech as president to the UN General Assembly in 2009, President Obama said, regarding the United Nations, “we address our priorities here, in this institution.” President-elect Donald Trump tweeted last December in the wake of the Obama administration’s abstention vote on Resolution 2334, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20.”