Commentary Magazine


Policy Is Personnel

At Tablet magazine, Marc Tracy suggests someone should be fired for diplomatic malpractice regarding the UN vote on Israel, since the episode confirmed that Obama’s words and actions do not match; featured “the ostensible leader of the free world supplicating himself to the disputed leader of a stateless authority,” who called his bluff; demonstrated how little weight a personal request from the president carries; had the whole world watching him try to find his way out of the mess; and culminated with a result that antagonized everyone. At the American Thinker, Richard Baehr suggests the administration “crossed a line” with its “particularly unskillful” handling of the situation.

Let me add one more point, gleaned from the teleconference Susan Rice held Friday evening with reporters explaining the U.S. alternative – a “very strong” and unanimous Council statement that would have “gone further than we have gone of late on the issue of settlements and other important issues,” plus a commitment to “new and important statements [by the Quartet] on core issues, including territory, as well as settlements” and a Security Council visit to the region. She said it would have permitted the Security Council to speak “with one voice on core issues in the manner that we hadn’t before.”

The point to be noted is that this was completely inconsistent with the administration’s Congressional testimony the week before. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the House Foreign Affairs Committee the administration had a “clear and consistent” position: “we do not think the Security Council is the right place to engage on these issues, and … we will continue to employ the tools that we have to make sure that continues to not happen …”

How did the “clear and consistent” position to prevent the Security Council from engaging on the issues become a concerted effort one week later to have the Council engage, as long as it acted through a unanimous anti-Israel statement, an anti-Israel Quartet statement, and the maraschino cherry of an anti-Israel Security Council trip, instead of a resolution?

It is fairly easy to piece together what happened, by reviewing Hillary Clinton’s schedule last week. On each of the three days preceding the veto, she spent the afternoon at the White House with President Obama, sometimes accompanied by James Steinberg. It was undoubtedly there that someone pushed the idea of having the Security Council engage with a statement, a follow-up statement, and a trip. The “clear and consistent” State Department position was transformed into the opposite, with Rice later delivering an extraordinarily harsh statement against Israel, using decidedly undiplomatic language indistinguishable from what might have accompanied a U.S. vote in favor of the resolution.

Michael Oren reportedly said last year that peace-process policy in the Obama administration is a one-man show. Last week we may have viewed another confirmation – one that makes Marc Tracy’s suggestion impossible to implement.