In the rush to condemn the U.N. Security Council for another diplomatic failure to protect the Syrian people from Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime, many reporters have missed one key fact. The Security Council actually had enough votes to pass the resolution offered by the British government but the Russians and Chinese voted against it; and since they are permanent members, the attempt to condemn the government of Syria failed. Eleven of the fifteen members of the Security Council voted for the resolution (there were two abstentions). The diplomatic failure was in not convincing Russia to support the U.S. priority issue. As most observers know, the Chinese were only following the Russians lead.
The U.S.-Russian relationship has always been a complicated and multifaceted one. Yet the Obama administration decided early on that it could benefit from a "re-set" to the relationship and a forget-the-past look forward. It was clear that team Obama was convinced the relationship needed something new and that it could make a positive change. Despite their angry rhetoric, the Russians had consistently, albeit reluctantly, supported U.S. priority issues at the U.N. in the past. But team Obama wanted a nicer tone and a chance for greater cooperation.
Yesterday's U.N. vote, the third veto from the Russia Federation on the issue of Syria alone, is proof that the Obama strategy has failed. The media shouldn't ignore this strategic mistake from the president. President Obama, after all, was also caught on camera whispering to the Russian leader that he was willing to be more flexible with the Russians after the November elections.
Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin angrily went after the Obama Administration yesterday: "I'm tempted to quote from the American presidential campaign's 'It's the economy, stupid.' But I'm crossing out 'economy.' It's about Iran."
Churkin's angry words outside the Security Council prove the Russians' tone hasn't changed since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton symbolically pressed the re-set button. The Russians have kept their heated rhetoric but instead changed their votes. What has been overlooked by the main stream media is that Russia's voting pattern at the UN Security Council on U.S. priority issues has gotten worse since Obama instituted his re-set policy.
Take the issue of Iran, for example. The Obama Administration has only been able to convince the Russians to support one UN resolution on Iran. The previous administration produced the same heated rhetoric and name-calling from the Russians but were able to garner five resolutions condemning Iran's illegal enrichment activity -- three with increased sanctions.
Despite U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice's anger and irritation with the Russians' veto, her inability to convince her counterparts from Russia and China to support a U.S. priority resolution is the real reason diplomacy failed at the U.N. yesterday. President Obama's Syria policy, after all, has been confusing and inconsistent -- even for Americans. In February 2010, President Obama sent a U.S. Ambassador to Syria for the first time since 2005. In October 2011, Obama withdrew the ambassador only to send him back six weeks later. Then, in February 2012, Obama pulled the ambassador out again. Without U.S. resolve, the Russians calculate that American pressure and attention will wane.
As the situation in Syria gets worse and the opposition forces begin to break into the capital city of Damascus, it is clear that Assad is finished as Syria's leader. While it may be this week or in the months to come, the opposition forces have the momentum to topple President Assad. Unfortunately, thru 18 months of violence and 17,000 people killed, they haven't had the support of the U.S. government. The U.S. position should be clear and consistent to support regime change and the Syrian opposition groups that seek peace and stability. The lesson learned at the UN yesterday is that the Russians will always complain about U.S. policy. The real test of leadership is how much the U.S. government ignores the rhetoric and demands action anyway. The Obama team's inconsistent Syria policy and its' naïve Russian re-set policy has convinced the Russians that ignoring the U.S. comes without a price.