The Obama administration is absolutely furious at Russia and China. The two UN
Security Council permanent members’ move on Saturday to veto a resolution on
Syria utterly infuriated the US’s President Barack Obama, Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice. And they want us all to know just
how piping mad they really are.
Rice called the vetoes “unforgivable,”
and said that “any further blood that flows will be on their hands.” She
said the US was “disgusted.”
Clinton called the move by Moscow and
Beijing a “travesty.” She then said that the US will take action outside the UN,
“with those allies and partners who support the Syrian people’s right to have a
The rhetoric employed by Obama’s top officials is
striking for what it reveals about how the Obama administration perceives the
purpose of rhetoric in foreign policy.
Most US leaders have used rhetoric
to explain their policies. But if you take the Obama administration’s statements
at face value you are left scratching your head in wonder. Specifically on
Syria, if you take these statements literally, you are left wondering if Obama
and his advisers are simply clueless. Because if they are serious, their
indignation bespeaks a remarkable ignorance about how decisions are made at the
Is it possible that Obama believed that Russian Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin would betray Bashar Assad, his most important strategic
ally in the Middle East? Is it possible that he believed that the same Chinese
regime that systematically tramples the human rights of its people would agree
to intervene in another country’s domestic affairs? Outside the intellectual
universe of the Obama administration – where stalwart US allies such as Hosni
Mubarak are discarded like garbage and foes such as Hugo Chavez are wooed like
Hollywood celebrities – national governments tend to base their foreign policies
on their national interests.
In light of this basic reality, Security
Council actions generally reflect the national interests of its member states.
This is how it has always been.
This is how it will always be. And it is
hard to believe that the Obama administration was unaware of this basic
In fact, it is impossible to believe that the administration was
unaware that its plan to pass a Security Council resolution opposing Assad’s
massacre of his people – and so jeopardize Russian and Chinese interests – had
no chance of success. The fact that they had to know the resolution would never
pass leads to the conclusion that Obama and his advisers weren’t trying to pass
a resolution on Syria at all.
Rather they were trying to pass the buck on
We have two pieces of evidence to support the view that the Obama
administration has no intention of doing anything even vaguely effective to end
Assad’s reign of terror that has so far taken the lives of between five and ten
thousand of his countrymen.
First, for the past 10 months, as Assad’s
killing machine kicked into gear, Obama and his advisers have been happy to sit
on their hands. They supported Turkey’s feckless diplomatic engagement with
Assad. They sat back as Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayep Erdogan employed the
IHH, his regime-allied terror group, to oversee the organization of a Muslim
Brotherhood-dominated Syrian opposition.
Second, the administration
supported the Arab League’s farcical inspectors’ mission to Syria. That mission
was led by Sudanese Gen. Muhammad al- Dabi. Dabi reportedly was one of the
architects of the genocide in Darfur. Clearly, a mission under his leadership
had no chance of accomplishing anything useful. And indeed, it
AND SO, after nearly a year, the issue of Assad’s butchery of his
citizens finally found its way to the Security Council last month. Many in the
US expected Obama to use the opportunity to finally do something to stop the
killing, just as he and his NATO allies did something to prevent the killing in
Libya last year.
Ten months ago Obama, Rice, Clinton and National
Security Council member Samantha Power decided that the US and its allies had to
militarily intervene in Libya to ensure that Muammar Gaddafi didn’t have the
opportunity to kill his people as Assad is now doing. That is, to prevent the
type of human rights calamity that the Syrian people are now experiencing, Obama
used the UN as a staging ground to overthrow Gaddafi through force.
for the people of Syria, who are being shot dead even as they try to bury their
families who were shot dead the day before, unlike the situation in Libya, Obama
has never had the slightest intention of using his influence to take action
against Assad. And faced with the rapidly rising public expectation that he
would take action at the Security Council to stop the killing, Obama opted for
Knowing full well that Putin – who is still selling
Assad weapons – would veto any resolution, rather than accept that the Security
Council is a dead end, Obama had Rice negotiate fecklessly with her Russian
counterparts. The resolution that ended up being called to a vote on Saturday
was so weak that US Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House
Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement on Friday calling for the
administration to veto it.
As Ros-Lehtinen put it, the draft resolution
“contains no sanctions, no restrictions on weapons transfers, and no calls for
Assad to go, but supports the failed Arab League observer mission,” and so isn’t
“worth the paper it’s printed on.”
She continued, “The Obama
administration should not support this weak, counterproductive resolution, and
should also reconsider the legitimacy that it provides to the Arab League – an
organization that continues to boycott Israel – when it comes to the regime in
But instead of vetoing it, the administration backed it to the
tilt and then expressed disgust and moral outrage when Russia and China vetoed
The lesson of this spectacle is that it we must recognize that the
Obama administration’s rhetoric hides more than it reveals about the president’s
THE FIRST place that we should apply this lesson is to
the hemorrhage of administration rhetoric about Iran.
For the past
several weeks we have been treated to massive doses of verbiage from Obama and
his senior advisers about Iran. The most notable of these recent statements was
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s conversation with The Washington Post’s David
Ignatius last week.
Panetta used Ignatius to communicate two basic
messages. First, he wanted to make clear that the administration adamantly
opposes an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear installations. And second, he wanted
to make clear that if Iran strikes Israeli population centers, the US will come
to Israel’s defense.
The purpose of the first message is clear
Panetta wished to increase pressure on Israel not to take
preemptive action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
The purpose of
the second message is also clear.
Panetta spoke of the US’s obligation to
Israel’s defense in order to remove the justification for an Israeli
After all, if the US is obliged to defend it, then Israel mustn’t
risk harming US interests by defending itself.
When taken together,
Panetta’s message sounds balanced and responsible. But when examined carefully,
it is clear that it is not. First of all, it is far from responsible for the US
government to tell its chief ally that it should be willing to absorb an attack
on its population centers from Iran. No government can be expected to sit back
and wait to be attacked with nuclear weapons because if it is, the Americans
will retaliate against its attacker. Panetta’s message was not just
It was obnoxious.
And this leaves the first
message. Since Obama was elected the US has devoted most of its energies not to
preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but to pressuring Israel not to
prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And Panetta’s remarks to Ignatius
were consistent with this mission.
Some have argued that the US’s
stepped-up naval presence in the Persian Gulf is evidence that the US is itself
gearing up to attack Iran. But as retired US naval analyst J.E. Dyer explained
in an essay last month at the Optimistic Conservative blog, the US posture in
the Persian Gulf is defensive, not offensive.
The US has not deployed
anywhere near the firepower it would need to conduct a successful military
campaign against Iran’s nuclear installations. The only thing the US deployment
may serve to accomplish is to deter Israel from launching a preemptive air
strike against Iran’s nuclear installations.
It is true that to a certain
extent, Israel has brought this escalating American rhetorical storm on itself
with its own flood of rhetoric about Iran. Over the past week nearly every
senior Israeli military and political official has had something to say about
Iran’s nuclear program.
But this stream of words does not reflect a
change in Israel’s strategic timetable. Rather it is a function of the rather
mundane calendar of Israel’s annual conference circuit. It just so happened that
the annual Herzliya Conference took place last week. It is standard fare for
Israel’s security and political leadership to bloviate about Iran’s nuclear
program at Herzliya. They do it every year. They did it this year.
truth, no one said anything at the conference that we didn’t already know. We
learned nothing new about Iran’s program or Israel’s intentions. Had there been
no conference last week, there would likely have been no flood of Israeli
We only know three things for certain about Iran. It is
getting very late in the game for anyone to take any military actions to prevent
Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran will not stop its nuclear weapons
program voluntarily. And Obama will not order US forces to take action to stop
Iran’s nuclear project.
What remains uncertain still is how Israel plans
to respond to these three certainties. The fact that Israel has waited this long
to strike presents the disturbing prospect that our leaders may have been
confused by the Obama administration’s rhetoric. Perhaps they have been
persuaded that the US is on our side on this issue and that we don’t have to
rely only on ourselves to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
as the foregoing analysis of the administration’s very angry words on Syria and
very sober words on Iran demonstrates, Obama and his deputies use rhetoric not
to clarify their intentions, but to obfuscate them. Just as they will do nothing
to prevent Assad from continuing his campaign of murder and terror, so they will
do nothing to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear