Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Grinch Who Stole The UN

I heard about this story while out with some friends last Friday.  It is nice to think of the United Nations as a serious place where diplomats and experts sincerely try to come up with mature solutions to the world's most dire problems.

And then there's Mark Kornblau, the spokesman for the United States' Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice.  In response to an ongoing feud between his boss and Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Kornblau tweeted this picture of Churkin photoshopped into an image of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  Glad to see that the US is sending mature boys and girls to represent our interests at the United Nations...

Rice and Churkin have recently had an increasingly testy round of exchanges over Syria and Libya.  Basically, the United States is angry with Russia over that country's opposition to increased pressure on the Assad regime in Syria over their brutal crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrators.  Russia, which has long-standing political and economic ties to Syria, is reluctant to punish the country any further. But Churkin has framed Russia's position as one of opposition to another US-led attempt at regime change in the Middle East/North Africa region, citing the NATO-led, US-backed campaign that led to the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.  Rice responded to Churkin's latest position statement against further sanctions in Syria by saying of the Russian position “it is duplicitous, it's redundant, it's superfluous and it's a stunt.”  Churkin took a dig at Rice by saying those were the kind of big words one learns at Stanford, Rice's alma mater.

Of course a better tack for Churkin would have been to bring up Bahrain.  While Rice is making an impassioned case for intervention (politically at least) in Syria by stating: “Welcome to December. Is everybody sufficiently distracted from Syria now and the killing that is happening before our very eyes?,” just as the United States had made a similar case for action in Libya once that regime started killing its own citizens, the US position towards Bahrain was quite different.  When the small Persian Gulf state launched its own brutal crackdown against its own pro-democracy movement, which included the shooting of unarmed protesters and the arrest of doctors who tried to treat the wounded, the US was silent beyond a few bland calls for “restraint”.  The difference is that Bahrain is the home to the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet, the Bahrani royal family is closely allied with the Saudis and that the protesters were largely Shiite Muslims (like their large neighbor to the east, Iran).  Of course, if the United States is going to be the passionate supporter of human rights around the globe, then we should also call out our allies for their transgressions – a good point for Churkin to make.

Getting back to the Grinch thing.  Not only was it stupid, it was childish.  Given the beating the United States' image took at the UN during the term of Dubya Bush-era Ambassador John Bolton, who had all of the grace and diplomacy of a pit bull, there is a real need for the representatives of the United States now to appear mature and professional, Mark Kornblau has shown he is neither of these things.  Firing Kornblau would be a good step in the process of rebuilding the United States' stature as a glopbal leader at the UN.   
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