Monday, August 26, 2013

Should we care that Samantha Power stayed on vacation?

By now, the news is out that our ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, last week missed the emergency UN Security Council meeting called to discuss the reported gassing of what has turned out to be hundreds of Syrians. Instead, she was at a film festival in Ireland. She has been portrayed as an expert on genocide and this is certainly the sort of issue at which we would want our UN ambassador to be present. They're now saying that she couldn't have been able to fly back in time for the meeting, but how hard would it have been to postpone the Security Council meeting in time for her to fly back?

Conservatives are ridiculing her for not having been there and for the State Department's lame efforts to try to hide the fact that she was on vacation.

But honestly, would it have made one bit of difference if she had been there. Would anything different have happened at the meeting if the ambassador, instead of a deputy, had been there? We couldn't even get Russia and China to approve a strong statement about the use of chemical weapons. Both Russia and China will undoubtedly block any UN-backed military response just as they're making comparisons to faulty intelligence before the invasion of Iraq. Germany is also not on board.

It's also quite clear that there is no push from the Obama administration to do more than launch missiles into Syria and he's already indicated that he doesn't want to attack without a UN mandate, a mandate that will never come with Russia and China's ability to veto it.

So, while it is always amusing to point out Power's presence at a film festival while the emergency meeting was going on, it doesn't really matter. The UN is a feckless and useless organization for such events. It will never be the organization that will step in to stop mass murders of civilians especially when Russia and China are supporting the government perpetrating those murders. They aren't going to support any real action to stop the civil war. They've earlier blocked a statement of "gave concern" about the conditions of civilians trapped by the fighting in Syria. Russia and China have voted five times to veto any effort to impose sanctions on Syria. There has been previous evidence that the Assad government had used chemical weapons before and the UN did nothing. And why should the use of chemical weapons that kill hundreds be more of a red line than a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands?

An organization that can't even agree to express "grave concern" is not an organization that is going to accomplish anything whether our ambassador is present or not. This whole episode has been a perfect distillation of why the United Nations is useless.

It would be nice if this event led UN supporters such as President Obama to admit that the UN is not of any use when it comes to such international crises, but you know he never will. There are always those who would prefer to pay deference to the ideal of what the UN stands for rather than the reality of what it is. And isn't that a liberal trait - to prefer the platitudes of high-minded goals rather than a realistic look at what is actually happening?