US Leadership at the United Nations

04/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As spokesman for Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, one charge I never thought I'd have to refute is the notion that she's unwilling to be confrontational.

Where to begin with the litany of canards and flat-out fallacies in Richard Grenell's recent post, "New Study Suggests US Ambassador Rice Isn't Engaging at the UN"? (Notably, Mr. Grenell is also the author of the time-tested HuffPost classic, "Why Obama Will Lose Today", November 4, 2008.)

My boss may be a lot of things, but battle-shy isn't one of them.

The Obama Administration -- with Ambassador Rice on the front lines in New York -- has dramatically changed our course at the UN to make Americans safer and to move us toward a more peaceful and prosperous world. In 2009, we imposed the toughest sanctions on any country in the world today against North Korea -- sanctions that were the result of arduous, hard-nosed negotiations led by Ambassador Rice. She led U.S. efforts to hammer out a landmark Security Council resolution to help prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons; used our Security Council weight to direct UN peacekeeping forces to do more to stop sexual violence against women and girls in conflict zones; strengthened sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban; and pushed to ensure that UN peacekeeping forces have the support they need to fulfill their missions and protect the vulnerable in places like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As the hook for his hit piece, Grenell misrepresents the findings of a recent study by the Security Council Report, a Columbia University-based research group, which showed that the UN Security Council issued fewer resolutions and press statements in 2009 than usual. First, the suggestion that this is somehow an indicator of a lack of U.S. leadership is pure invention. Second, as far as we're concerned, this reduction is actually an achievement. The point is to get results, not rack up meaningless statistics (and, in this case, distorted ones). As the report itself says, "more is not necessarily better," and the Security Council in 2009 produced "milestones that are not reflected by the bare numbers," including concrete advances to protect civilians and new efforts to halt the spread and use of nuclear weapons. I imagine that if you asked the American people what they care more about, they'd go for quality over quantity and substance over statistics.

Under the leadership of Ambassador Rice, the U.S. Mission to the UN is on the front lines of U.S. national security strategy and a "new era of engagement." We face 21st-century challenges like nuclear proliferation, terrorism, regional conflicts, climate change, and pandemic disease -- and while we can't tackle them without American leadership, we can't solve them all on our own.

So it's basic pragmatism that drives us to see the UN as a place to advance American interests and values. We worked through the UN to advance America's core national priorities in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a result of our approach, both North Korea and Iran find themselves more isolated -- and the rest of the world more unified to press them to comply with their nuclear obligations -- than ever before. We have repaired damaged relationships, made progress on issues from non-proliferation to development, and built a stronger basis for future cooperation. We are pushing hard for reform, to make UN programs more effective and to ensure US taxpayer money is spent wisely.

Only a few weeks into 2010, we have already worked with the UN round the clock to help Haiti recover and start to rebuild. We are also working to confront the threat of climate change, and to assist the UN as it strengthens its lifesaving peacekeeping operations.

On the upside, I'd long thought of Grenell as a fairly predictable critic of the UN. It's weird to see him carping at my boss for allegedly being insufficiently ardent about the UN -- but I'm glad to see he's come around to our view of the importance of the place.