Why didn’t Susan Rice just get up and say, “I’m being forced to veto this condemnation of Israel because the Israel Lobby controls D.C., I’m bitterly resentful about it, and Stephen Walt will soon be explaining why”? It would have been less damaging than the spectacle we just witnessed, wherein, as John pointed out, the American ambassador to the United Nations telegraphed — through words, body language, and her anti-Israel tantrum — that she didn’t support the policy she was implementing on behalf of the president.
No one’s under any illusions that Rice prefers basking in the agapic embrace of Turtle Bay to defending the only stable ally America currently has in the Middle East. But did she really need to make it so obvious? The president of the United States might be tarnishing the solemnity of his office by stirring up domestic unrest against his political opponents, but can’t we at least try not to look like a banana republic in front of actual banana republics?
Of course, this is all under the assumption that Rice really was acting out against the White House’s decision. If the administration actually instructed her to say one thing and do another on the world’s largest diplomatic stage, then we’ve got bigger problems.
What exactly was this public display of petulance supposed to accomplish? Having disappointed the Arab world by vetoing the proposal, was the point also to disappoint the Israelis by joining the UN lynch mob in words but not deeds? This did actual damage to U.S. credibility and influence. It damaged them in a direct way by ensuring that we’d alienate everybody today, and it damaged them in a potentially more significant way by creating a chasm between our words and our actions. It’s almost as if Rice spent the week telling everyone that a veto wouldn’t advance U.S. interests in any way, and then set out to make sure that’s exactly what happened. Did anyone even vet this internationalist pablum?
And no, of course it’s not United States policy to view construction within the settlement blocs as “illegitimate.” At least it wasn’t once the Bush letters came out, which unambiguously recognized the permanence of major Israeli settlements. But since Rice’s speech didn’t really reflect the explicit policy choices of this government, presumably she didn’t feel bound by the commitments of previous governments either. So a banana republic it is.