Dispensing with American leadershipJennifer Dyer argues that Saturday's Russian and Chinese vetoes of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria's Bashar al-Assad were an avoidable disaster that will have long-term consequences on American power worldwide.
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.Read the whole thing.
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.
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.
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.
She makes a good point: Do we really want the Arab League and the UN determining which regimes ought to be changed?