President Obama is fond of boasting about his foreign policy prowess and is anxious to use his UN General Assembly address on September 25 to amplify that claim. His competence took a hit this past week after he pontificated on CBS – less than 24 hours after the murder of our Libyan ambassador – that as president he’d “learned” you have “to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts.” It turned out that he didn’t have the facts, but he and his officials kept yakking anyway.
One of those sent out to face the fire, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, will be front and center at the American desk in the Assembly Hall as the president makes his UN pitch. Rice’s implacable insistence that the ‘video-done-it’ has been widely ridiculed, and is now disputed by the White House itself. In fact, the administration’s video-fixated apologies appear to have been fueling the flames.
So last Friday, during a television appearance Daily Beast columnist and Fox News political analyst Kirsten Powers asked the right question: “Why was Susan Rice lying?”
The answer will be clearer after hearing the president’s speech, but the answer – to borrow a word from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney – is self-evident. She was taking her cue from the top.
For over three years, the president has burnished his international affairs credentials via a steady stream of misinformation, much of it generated from his diplomatic corps. Bogus UN “success” stories can therefore be expected to factor into tomorrow’s oration.
Here are some possible chestnuts.
There’s the one about the glories of the UN Human Rights Council – which 2012 state department fact sheets say is an “effective and credible multilateral forum for promoting and protecting human rights.”
Given that the UN’s top human rights body counts Cuba, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia among its members, and starting in 2013, Venezuela, Pakistan and Kazakhstan, it isn’t obvious to Americans how this move promotes or protects their values.
Enter Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations and storyteller extraordinaire. Addressing a crowd in Washington, D.C. on September 18, 2012, she said: “[S]ince 2009, the United States and our partners on the Human Rights Council have expanded international mechanisms to monitor and protect core human rights, including freedom of expression…”
Actually, the Council has ceased adopting a substantive resolution on freedom of opinion and expression altogether. While the Canadians shepherded such a resolution through the UN Human Rights Commission (the Council’s predecessor) for twelve successive years to 2004, team Obama agreed to set aside the detailed free speech resolution after October 2009 and turn its attention to a new annual UN standard-bearer.
The name of today’s American-backed paradigm? “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief.” Needless, to say, Obama officials cut that raw deal with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Many months later in 2011, Obama diplomats begged none other than the Egyptian government to help them resurrect a substantive freedom of opinion and expression resolution. Egypt refused.
Another tale concerns Israel, and the Human Rights Council’s ongoing attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state. With an agenda reserving one item on Israel and one item on the remaining 192 UN states, 40% of all condemnations directed at Israel alone, and a new witch hunt (aka “fact-finding mission”) launched last March, Israel ceased all cooperation with the Council this year and asked the Obama administration to stop validating the institution.
Instead, the administration decided to run for a second three-year term while dispatching Susan Rice and her state department colleagues during election season to Jewish venues in Florida. Clearly a pro at her game, here’s Ambassador Rice last spring: “Not a day goes by — not one — when my colleagues and I don’t work hard to defend Israel’s security and legitimacy at the United Nations.”
Then there’s the success story about UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, reappointed in May with the approval of the Obama administration. Opening the Council’s latest session on September 10, 2012 she discussed stoning in Iran in the same paragraph as executions in the United States. The woman who questioned the legality of killing Usama bin Laden, went on to tell the world “I am distressed by recent executions carried out in Belarus, China,… Saudi Arabia and the United States.”
One more foreign policy charade which is sure to make its way into the President’s General Assembly speech – more finger-wagging at Iran. Be prepared for the familiar lingo about “strongest sanctions ever” – albeit that beefy Security Council hasn’t imposed a new round of sanctions on Iran in over two years. We might also hear a variation of this oft-repeated formula for getting tough on Iran: “nuclear weapons are really really bad, but the door is still open if Ahmadinejad should take my hand and walk through it.”
President Obama will also remind the nuclear weapon have-nots in the crowd that he has consistently placed the nuclear disarmament of the United States and other democracies on a par with the evils of nuclear proliferation by genocidal dictators.
So why did Susan Rice lie? Because President Obama fully intends to appear before the UN General Assembly and tell the world his priorities are: preserving American values like free speech not undermining it, educating merely misinformed Muslim rioters not appeasing them, strengthening alliances not weakening our allies, protecting American security not disabling our defenses, and assuring American voters that our “tiny” enemies are on the run and we’re now well-loved notwithstanding a spontaneous murder here and there.
In other words, she is not alone.
Anne Bayefsky is director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust. Follow her on Twitter @AnneBayefsky.