Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | February 5, 2012

UN “travesty”: More things have been lost than the peace plan for Syria

The vetoes of Russia and China in the UN Security Council on Saturday were a body blow to US international leadership.  That is the short version of what happened.

The US and EU backed an Arab League plan to transition Syria from the Assad regime to a new, popularly elected government.  The plan was proposed for UN endorsement, so that its execution would have the imprimatur of the UN and the implied weight of international approval.  The Obama administration made execution of this plan, through the UN, the focus of US policy on Syria, as did the EU and its major member states.

They brought the question to a vote in spite of the fact that the positions of Russia and China on intervening in Syria have been unchanged for months.  It was predictable that Russia and China would veto the resolution.  Indeed, it was a grave tactical error to force the confrontation.  Russia’s and China’s greatest concerns have not changed, and instead of addressing them, the Atlantic members of the Perm-5 forced a vote.

This was a confrontation that did not have to happen.  Russia’s and China’s concerns have sound elements.  Consider the issue in this light: do we really want to set a precedent in which the UN gives its stamp of approval to regime-change proposals from the Arab League?  Should the UN act as a fulcrum for regime change in this manner?  If we allow it to, what will that mean for the future?  For whom else will the UN endorse third-party plans for regime change?

The precedent in principle is one of the great problems here, and Russian and Chinese comments on the issue have consistently centered on it.  Remember that the UN did not give its stamp of approval to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which had as its objective regime-changing Saddam Hussein.  I never considered that a problem, and indeed was glad that a faulty precedent was not set then.

In 2011, the UN declined to endorse any regime-change proposal for Libya.  In approving the use of force against the Qadhafi regime, the UN’s narrow justification was protection of civilians.  That principle was strategically and operationally unsound, to be sure, but by invoking it, the US delegation and the UN avoided pushing for the bad precedent we have just demanded a vote on: having the UN endorse third-party proposals for regime change.

Frankly, Russia and China have good grounds for rejecting that proposal.  It is not safe, for any nation, for the UN to be a source of such endorsements.  The character of the UN is well known; it cannot be trusted with such a portfolio.  Neither the United States nor any nation in Europe is naturally immune to attack by this method – but the Obama administration and the EU continue to behave as if we are.

Besides the flawed principle, Russia is of course concerned about her client, Bashar al-Assad, being removed by outside agency.  But her greater concern is who the remover would be.  Russia cannot tolerate giving a Western-backed Arab League the lead in picking a new leadership for Syria – any more than Russia thought it was a good idea for Turkey’s Erdogan to pick Syria’s new leadership.  The reason is a combination of factors:  Moscow fears political-power wins for the Islamic world in the context of a fading, incoherent American power – and the peril is doubled by the fact that it’s the West actively bolstering the Arab-Muslim bloc as a regional power broker.

From the Russian perspective, this Western move is either diabolical – a means of raiding Russia’s client base without confronting Moscow directly – or colossally stupid.  China, under perceived pressure from American activism in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, also sees the move as opening doors that should be held closed: doors that will usher in new stability problems on China’s western flank.

We should be clear that Russia and China are both happy to have their own special relationships with the Arab League, and with Arab or other Muslim Middle Eastern nations individually.  They understand this as pragmatism, and have no illusions about what it means in terms of amity, goodwill, or commonality of philosophical interests.  The problem, from their perspective, is the West giving a boost on principle to a bloc that is hostile, unreliable, and potentially very exploitable by newly-empowered radical Islamists, as the “Arab Spring” spins off its thunderstorms and tornadoes.  Either the Westerners are ideological dupes, or they are playing a very deep power game.  With their passive-aggressive approach, the US and EU have chosen the path most likely to shift power relationships in negative, uncontrollable directions for everyone in Asia and much of Europe and Africa.

By operating on a set of unrealistic ideological precepts, the Obama administration has made it impossible for Russia and China to tacitly accept US leadership and extract from it the benefits they can.  The vetoes they exercised in Saturday’s vote have launched a new period in which they will make fewer and fewer bones about repudiating US leadership and pushing for alternative arrangements.

 As for Syria, France has already announced that she is pushing, in the absence of a UN resolution, for a coalition approach (emphasis added):

President Nicolas Sarkozy said France would work with its European and Arab partners to create what he called a “group of friends of the Syrian people” to apply international backing to the Arab League’s call for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, the withdrawal of troops and a transition to democracy.

Apparently, Sarkozy is willing to dispense with American “leadership from behind,” and find a solution for Syria without the United States.  France’s approach is commonsensical and realistic, and that could be a net positive for Syria and the region.  But Russia and China have their own diplomatic channels and proposals in Syria; it is not a given that France’s initiative is the one that will carry the day.  In any case, the outcome could very well be worked out without any real input from US power.

Don’t be too quick to say, “Good riddance; France or Russia should be handling it anyway.”  If our power is so valueless that it can be dispensed with in the Eastern hemisphere, there is nothing that will prevent that region’s security problems from rapidly becoming ours.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.



  1. The vetoes of Russia and China in the UN Security Council on Saturday were a body blow to US international leadership. That is the short version of what happened.—–

    short AND stupid.

    • Yes, of course, that’s why everyone reads the fuster blog. Much better to have one’s own blog than being a petulant whiny troll living permanently on someone else’s doorstep, right, fuster?

      • doesn’t change anything that you interpret a rejection of a lame understanding of the thing as “whiny”

        rather than shelve a proposal, as per usual practice, that was going to get vetoed, it was decided to make the Russians and Chinese use their veto at this time in the expectation that ensuing events are gonna cause them to be forced to defend their decision as the fan grows further enfecalatious.

        Assad is going down anyway, and Syria ain’t the middle ring of the circus.

  2. Since when have Russia and China acknowleged US international leadership. Never, to my knowledge? Neither did the former Soviet Union, which never hesitated to use its veto when its own interests and clients were involved (The Soviets/Russians, Chinese, and Uncle Sam, have always reserved to ourselves the right to “adjust” regimes, but solely within our respective spheres). You will all remember the Cold War when the US had exactly zero influence over large tracts of the planet because they weren’t within our sphere.
    We must also remember that GW Bush couldn’t even get the French on board for the Iraq regime change misadventure (Pity we didn’t heed their warnings!). At least US influence has improved somewhat since those bad times, and our own allies are back on-side these days.
    The Russians and Chinese are of course making the point that it isn’t in their interests to have the UN involved in overthrowing soverign governments. They feel that they were hoodwinked over the “humanitarian” adventure in Libya. The Russians are also probably making the point that they can play the US at it’s own game by using its veto to protect its own toxic middle-east client – just as we have used our veto to protect ours. Pay-back time, in a manner of speaking.
    Ultimately, we are just going to have to come to a new settlement with Russia and China. Seeing as we cannot nuke them into submission (nor they us), a new settlement or perpetual stalemate are our options. And making allegations about the wane of US power is puerile twaddle. It was dead easy to be influential and unchallenged when the Soviet Empire was disintegrating and China had yet to emerge as a global superpower. It was during the presidencies that preceded the present one that Russia began to reassert herself and China began to flex its muscles. Pity Obama’s predecessors didn’t stop these developments happening. If they had we wouldn’t be in the present stalemate. Well, actually, the truth is that they didn’t and couldn’t have anyway.

    • Gosh, I wonder how that Soviet Empire ever got disintegrated.

      • Because a new generation of Soviet leaders decided that they would no longer use state power to maintain an artificial empire in Eastern Europe and at home because they no longer believed in the ideology and economic model which that empire served.

        There is no question either that Gorbachev thought that by leaving Eastern Europe go and instituting political and economic reform he could hold the USSR together as a political entity. The hurricane of nationalism, once let loose, put paid to that.

        But the question is: Why, after the break-up of the USSR, GHB, Clinton, and GWB didn’t use the military power of the one remaining superpower to stop Russia regaining its position as a global power, and why Obama’s three predecessors failed to stop the emergence of China as a global power? After all, these were the facts that were already in existence when Obama came into office. Or did I somehow miss GWB’s (obviously unsuccessful) war to reinstate the US as the unchallenged world superpower? And perhaps I missed the replacement of Russia by the US as the pre-eminent power in the near-east by GWB’s remarkably successful diplomacy? To my knowledge, the only concrete achievements of GWB’s foreign policy were to cause great loss in US blood and treasure, and to contrive to make Iran the most influencial player in the Middle East and significantly diminish US influence in the entire Moslem world.

        And yes, Obama’s predecessors did nothing to stop the emergence of Russian and Chinese power because there was absolute nothing they could have done that was within the power of the US to stop the present geo-political situation coming to pass.

        • I see, so everything good that happens is caused by people in other countries, and everything bad is caused by America. Got it.

          • Er, no. Read my comment again, you obviously didn’t “get it”.

  3. It seems one can’t really “lead” from “behind”. And, as OC so clearly demonstrates, the Obami have once again treated us to an exhibition of foreign policy as rigid in its ideological fanaticism as it is thoroughly incompetent in execution.

    And the point, of course, isn’t that the vetoes themselves constitute a blow to U.S. leadership but rather the course chosen by the Obami, a course of aggressive and at least partially conscious declinism. In this way Barry has managed to put us in a position where we are acting both counter to our interests and in a way that is perhaps in some way more immoral than that of the Russians and Chinese. Good job out of him.

    Again, foreign policy is really hard but one can easily identify 3 steps a president can take to strengthen the U.S. posture in the world (thus conferring a tremendous benefit on the rest humanity as well as ourselves): 1) Implement the Ryan plan since economic strength really is the foundation of strategic strength – not to mention the tremendous benefits it would confer immediately on 80%+ of Americans and future generations; 2) Man and equip the U.S. military in a minimally adequate manner, something we can easily afford to do now and would be able to do that much more easily subsequent to implementing the Ryan budget; and 3) last but certainly not least (well, OK, – in this context perhaps least but valuable nonetheless) hire OC as a senior – and preferably very influential staffer on the NSC. She’s abundantly qualified and by any measure on can easily do much much worse.

    • With regard to your 3 steps:

      1. The Ryan plan would have institutionalized the Bush Depressionfrom which we are thankfully beginning to emerge because of very different and very much wiser policies.

      2. A military review is ongoing to assess the sort of military we will need into the future. Building more metaphorical dreatnoughts is not the way to go.

      3. I presume if her military superiors had as high an opinion of OC as you have they would have taken steps to retain her.

  4. It should be noted that at this time the Forces of Evil, Iran, Baby Assad (almost but not quite the same thing as the former) and the Giants are in the lead.

    • The analogy certainly holds if one thinks of the Pats as the good guys. The Giants are in the lead because the Pats are being feckless.

      • 15-18, 147 yards for TB, nice drive. And OC is incorrect to the extent that one need not consider the Pats the be all and end all of good guys so long as one correctly recognized the Giants as the very embodiment of Evil.

        Its only halftime. Unfortunately its rather late in the 4th quarter for stability (much less “Peace” – Hah!) in the Middle East and for the U.S. economy, present and future.

        • T”D”

          • T”B” DAMIT. Ugh. Meant “Brady”, not a “Touch Down”. Right the first time.

            • Got it. Wondered what that was about.

        • Well, I was trying to generate a thread at my Super Bowl post, but I guess the Syria post is a perfectly good place to keep the commentary going.

          Brady’s stats are better than the score and the aura of the first half would attest to.

          Fortunately, that painfully outdated Madonna sequence is over. Back to “football.:

  5. Hmm. I can’t believe I haven’t noticed until now. OC is on Twitter. How exciting.

  6. Patriots showed up for the second half.

  7. Giants will probably now, lose. They are not blitzing up the middle, and the Death Star max protect O-Line is giving Brady the 3 to 4 seconds that he needs to hit the hot read on the short outs and crosses..

    The Giant O is running like it’s the middle of the season, and the run some time off and punt offense with a tiny… oops NOT… lead will suffice.

    At this writing it was 17 to 9 with the Giants stalling on another listless unimaginative offensive series. The second half definitely won’t look like the first…

    Unless that Gian Defense wakes up and changes its pattern.


    • great prediculating, MF.

      once the Giants are behind they can’t ever generate a comeback……

  8. Brady is getting his usual overtime in the pocket. Giants have narrowed it to 17-15 but they’ve lost Ballard now. Manning keeps coming up with the 10-yard completions to the not-Cruz corps, but they’re fluffing when they get close to the end zone.

  9. TB reasonably competent under pressure some of the time, quite unlike his usual inclination.

  10. Opinion on the not-interference? I ended up agreeing with the refs, but with the caveat that it’s a really arbitrary art and not exactly a thread of consistency in the league.

    • Left hand grasping the shoulder pad. That’s interference. My wife didn’t see it. She is a Pats fan.

      • Fair enough.

        Meanwhile, Manningham clearly had a catch just now.

        • Yep

      • He brushed his shoulder as he went for the ball. Doesn’t matter.

        • Also fair enough. You see that a lot and it doesn’t get called. Maybe it should be.

        • Pats fan ?

  11. Clock management for the Giants.

  12. Up to the Giant D now.

    • A thoroughly satisfying finish to a really weird, and completely unhinged season.

      The Giants finally got pressure up the middle on Brady (Which gives him happy feet and tunnel vision) and Eli stitched together two scoring drives for 10 points.

      Now I have to set the clock for the 1st weekend in August. Baseball isn’t even remotely interesting until then, either. A long time in the doldrums…


  13. Yes !!!!!!

  14. Yep, Giants pull it out and hold on. Did much better interfering with the Brady express in the second half. Good going, Giants!

    • Spring practice soon.

      • Yeah, but once more, it won’t do the Reds any good.

  15. You know, one of the nice things about the World Series is that there are no halftime performances by Madonna.

    • I liked Madonna. Maybe it’s a Paisan thing. She can sing. Nice voice. Although I suspect a good bit of pre-recording and lip-synching was involved. I missed the upraised digit of Meaningless Individuat seeking Attention, but I caught what I thought were inappropriate lyrics. The big black guy is good.

      Good duet before the game, if you don’t mind a little twang. Kelly Clarkson remembered all the words to the National Anthem, too.

      I’d give it all a B+.

      • Madonna is an entertainer.

        Cathy Berberian can sing.

        • I like being entertained. So, thanks for the link.

          Don’t cry for Madonna:

  16. Much like the state of our economy and the military, American Football is now officially a pathetic joke where Evil always wins. An Alabama team that had no business playing in the national championship wins the BCS while LSU, a more deserving national champion than at least a third if not close to or even over a half of AP championship’s is denied their legitimate title.

    At least Alabama has a quasi-legitimate claim to being the best team in college football (though not by even the wildest stretch of the imagination could the claim to have had the best season). In the NFL, by contrast, where the so-called champion is said to be determined “on the field”, a third-rate 9-7 mediocrity which was outscored in the regular season and depended on more dropped balls and turnovers than the number of times Obama says “fair” to win is crowned Super Bowl “Champion”.


    • And if I like a worse sore looser than Newt at least I never attacked Mitt for his Private Equity activities and recognize the latter as one of the best welfare programs going.

    • Mercy. Believe me, I’m not under the impression that the Giants are the best team in football. TMF and Cousin Vinnie can attest to that. The Super Bowl winner is the Super Bowl winner, period.

      The central error of the BCS is the idea that it’s possible to inerringly pick a “best team” in the NCAA FBS. The only selection ever possible is the winner of a particular game.

      Hard to say which was the best NFL team this year. Green Bay? Who knows. Giants win the Super Bowl.

      • Thats part of the point. There is no “best” team in the NFL, certainly not for the full 20 weeks.

        • At least we can all put this Annus Horribilis behind us and look forward to an OU/LSU BCS Title Game and Green Bay/Cleveland (well, OK, maybe not) Super Bowl and the Ryan Rubio winning ticket and John Bolton as SecState with OC as Deputy SecState for policy. Or something.

          • dammit. it turned out to be a very good year for football here in NYC.

            Not only did the Giants win, but the dog-ass Jets and their blowhole of a coach got kicked in the teeth.

            (and may Orificer Bolton get the slapping that he merits.,,,and he would make a great addition to Avigdor Lieberman’s staff.)

          • I don’t know. I’m going to have to see more spunk from the Sooners to favor an OU/LSU BCS title game. But the rest sounds good.

            • OU will be a top 20 team. Thats it. You heard it here first from correspondent Reed.

              • Bye the bye, OU plays Notre Bame toward the end of the season AT HOME. Return game for the 1999 game at South Bend. Yum Yum Eatum Up !!!!!!!!!!!

              • Bame?

      • The best team is the one that wins on the day it has to win.

  17. How this turned into a discussion of the game is beyond me. On the other hand, the comments about the game make an awful lot more sense… 🙂

    Now, then… The UN protecting civilians…? HA! Don’t make me laugh…


    • No, no. Not “the UN protecting civilians.”

      More like “the UN talking about protecting civilians, while France and the UK run a leisurely bombing operation in Libya. And Qatar shows up with strike fighters to get in on the fun, and Turkey arrives with warships and cargo ships and promises to run the main airport. Libya stays in a civil war for a long, long time, while France sends in her military to secure the oilfields. Russia is in a permanent snit, and Italy plays both sides while whining at Germany about the Euro.”

      Ah, the joys of the Post-Americana.

      • At what stage of the GWB term did we arrive at “post Americana”, and who was to blame?

  18. too bad that it was too late.

    “the Giants are challenging the ruling on the field that #44 crossed the goal before being down”

    would have been classic.

    • After you good man. no no after you sir, be my guest. Oh no I wouldn’t think of it.

      • thank you. don’t mind if i don’t.

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