Saturday, February 4, 2012

Syria Scorecard

Today the UN Security council voted 13-2 to approve a resolution condemning Syria for the violent repression of its citizens.  Russia and China both vetoed the resolution.

The Bad
The news of a veto comes just hours after a Syrian military operation in Homs killed a number of Syrians on the anniversary of a similar event in Hama.  The news will undermine Syrian confidence and trust in the international community, and sets a precedent for future action.  The vetoes also represent the difficulty of coordinating on humanitarian concerns.  Today's resolution called for a cessation of violence only.  It had no provisions for intervention and did not call for President Assad to step down.  Finally, the veto is likely to affect US relations with Russia and China.  As a State Department officer, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice worked on Rwanda, and the issue of responsibility to protect (R2P) is deeply personal for her.  Before and during today's meeting, her body language indicated personal disdain, and her speech after the resolution failed was fiery.  While she did not call out Russia and China by name, she was very clear later to contrast the American position against those who advance their own "narrow interests."  While the situation is far from a crisis, relations between the US, Russia, and China have hit a sour note on this issue.

The Good
Today's resolution was sponsored by Morocco and consistent with a plan drafted by the Arab League.  It was supported by 13 out of 15 Security Council members and demonstrates a broad coalition for taking action on behalf of Syrians.  Realistically speaking, this would have been the outcome had the resolution passed as well, only slightly more so.  

Most importantly, the Obama administration has put the United States in the lead of an international coalition the Bush administration could only dream about.  While diplomacy is often downplayed as a set of meaningless formalities, today's security council meeting is proof that leadership by example rather than by threat produces outcomes.  Russia and China may have vetoed the resolution, but they paid a substantial political cost for doing so.  Both countries have been alienated in the international community and especially in the Arab World where tweets expressing profanity towards the countries were copious this morning.  They have also demonstrated a lack of leadership on an issue behind which the majority of the world is united.  Ambassador Rice's statements were clear that U.S. policy in will be to exact as heavy a political penalty as possible on Russia and China for standing against the resolution.  Anyone who believes the current US administration projects weakness internationally is deluding themselves in light of today's direct attack on countries which fail to uphold important American values.  

Ultimately, today's Security Council drama proves that while the United States may make mistakes, it learns from those mistakes and tries to be on the right side of history.  The ambassador of a global power does not use terms like "disgusted" and "blood on their hands" on the floor of the Security Council unless they mean it.  The United States means it.  While military intervention is unlikely at this point, the United States will likely implement other measures to deter President Assad from continuing to brutally target his own people.

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