The Founders in their wisdom divided the powers of government; some to the Executive, some to the Legislative. The power of the purse went to Congress; diplomacy to the Executive.
How that shakes out matters to the U.S. and our democratic allies.
The democracy of Israel, for example, had a good week with Congress. The Senate adopted, by unanimous consent (and 69 sponsors), a bill increasing coordination in the fields of missile defense, homeland security, energy, intelligence, and cyber-security. It also called for enhancing Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), a difficult-to-measure state of affairs, but a concept that friends of Israel appreciate. The House already passed its version of the same legislation.
The practicality of the bill is striking: do things, share things, develop things, produce things, and protect things. These are security enhancements that can only be done with an ally. Congress wants to do them with Israel.
President Obama, on the other hand, has been doing diplomacy, which by its nature skirts the concrete. Many administrations, including this one, believe speech is action. Diplomats fear they won’t get credit for damage avoided, so they often choose to produce no outcome all – just another meeting set for later – and never end the “process.” Playing for compromise – or even a respectable loss – can be satisfactory. Talking can replace doing. That may work for the United States, a big country with room to maneuver when it makes mistakes, but Israel lives much closer to the edge. Diplomatic trouble can quickly become economic, political or military trouble.
The UN Security Council has not managed to have a discussion about Syria since April, but the President has finally figured out how to have the Council “briefed” on the subject by Navi Pillai – a renowned Israel-basher. The French wanted to discuss Syria. The Russians were willing only if the US-French-British adventure in Libya was on the docket. Rotating member Pakistan wanted to hang Israel. And so a deal was done – give up Israel for Syria – protecting the French, skirting the Russians, and accommodating our friends the Pakistanis. As a veto-wielding member, the U.S. could have nixed the program, but instead insisted only that the Syrian meeting be held in the morning and the Israel-bashing in the afternoon; Ms. Pillai will have time in between for lunch.
Read the unparalleled Anne Bayevsky for the details.
France, by the way, was the only European country to agree that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem should be listed as a Palestinian UNESCO Heritage Site. The US is not a member of the World Heritage Committee. Our delegate campaigned against the vote, but lost. We are accustomed to losing in the UN, and it seems not to bother us much as it should for a country that covers nearly a quarter of the U.N.’s payroll with a blank check, no questions asked (or, more accurately, no answers given).
In the UN Human Rights Council, our representative Eileen Donahoe again remonstrated the Council for its “biased and disproportionate focus on Israel, as exemplified by this standing agenda item.”
The “standing agenda item” is Item 7, “Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other Occupied Arab territories.” It mandates that every discussion in the Council have a component devoted to (castigating) Israel. Ms. Donahoe objects – but she knows (her boss, the President, knows) she will lose every time because she is sitting with the likes of Congo, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Qatar, Cuba, the PRC and Malaysia. Players rotate (terms on the Council are three years), but the number of countries with unspeakable human rights records far exceeds the number of democratic countries, and the number of countries that vote en bloc (Arab/Muslim/African) far exceeds the number voting independently. The Council will always contain a preponderance of authoritarian countries whose governments engage in human rights abuses and have nothing to lose by castigating Israel.
President Obama stated that the U.S. would engage the Syrian uprising in the context of UN-sponsored discussion and UN-sponsored plans. Over last weekend, the UN-sponsored Syria Action Group convened in Geneva. Neither the Syrian government nor the opposition attended. The final communiqué told both how to behave; both rejected the tutorial. The U.S. and Russia also have also publicly disagreed about the implications of the document.