The Corner

She Wasn’t Even in the Room

Now comes word that United States ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice wasn’t even at the U.N., let alone in the committee room, when U.N. members voted Iran onto the Commission on the Status of Women committee. Not only was our ambassador not in the room for the vote, she wasn’t even in the building. Wouldn’t you think that a female American ambassador would understand the importance of standing up against a country that has some of the world’s most hostile laws toward women? Shouldn’t Rice want to use the opportunity to highlight the regime’s record on women’s rights?

Also troubling is that Iran was not only elected to the Women’s committee that day but elected, sans Rice, to three other U.N. committees, too: Iran is now an official member of the U.N.’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, and the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat). And our representative didn’t bother to show up — or speak up.

I spent eight years at the U.N., so I understand that U.S. ambassadors have a lot of issues to cover. There is no way to expect one ambassador to cover all of the U.S. government’s priority issues, and certainly there are a plethora of U.N. meetings that drag on, with an unlimited number of speakers and no time limits. I also understand the unique ways of the U.N. system and the regional voting blocs that control elections. But an American ambassador must be able to be nimble and spontaneous. The ambassador’s staff must monitor situations simultaneously and use the ambassador’s time well, to maximize attention and impact. If the votes are stacked against the U.S. and we are going to lose an election, then, for heaven’s sake, stand up and say something! Bring some shame on the countries that vote for the violators by drawing attention to the situation. American silence sends a very loud message and encourages the status quo.

But U.S. mission staff have confirmed that Rice wasn’t at the U.N. and therefore wasn’t able to so much as drop by the committee-elections meeting that was taking place, because she wasn’t attending any formal U.N. meetings that day. Even after all the votes were counted and Iran was elected to four committee assignments, Rice didn’t speak out to highlight the hypocrisy of electing a country like Iran to a committee designed to promote women’s rights — because she wasn’t around.

For Rice, this silence is becoming a pattern. She is seldom in New York City and spends even less time at the U.N. Rice has not conducted the hard negotiations nor done the sometimes unpopular and messy work of engaging the U.N. or speaking up when others are silent. Rice has been routinely unavailable to reporters, absent from daily U.N. meetings, and all too often silent when the American people needed a strong voice to speak out on an important issue. From Iran to Zimbabwe to Sudan to Cuba, Rice consistently stays silent. It’s no wonder other countries at the U.N. think the Obama administration is so easy to work with. And it also explains why we haven’t had one single Security Council resolution on Iran since Rice arrived. In a roughly two-year period, the Bush administration passed a total of five Iran resolutions, three of which contained increased sanctions and were passed unanimously (one sanctions resolution passed 14 to 1, with Indonesia voting no). The excuse that Rice is building relationships quietly or has a different type of style is lame. We don’t need to win popularity contests, we need action and votes and leadership. In Rice’s case, we just need her to start showing up for meetings and using her microphone. It’s time for Rice to step up and represent American interests at the U.N. or step aside and cede the role to someone who will show up for the fight.

Richard Grenell served as the spokesman for the last four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations.

UPDATE: Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, responds here.

UPDATE II: Richard Grenell responds to Kornblau here.


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