Her declamations, after the Russian and Chinese vetoes, about the eroding legitimacy of the United Nations and lukewarm response to human rights violations belie US policy of supporting autocratic regimes in the Middle East and its own UNSC veto record, especially, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Why the double standard?
Ambassador Rice was quick to point out the shamefulness of Russian arms to Assad regime, for example, but conveniently overlooked the recent decision by the Obama administration’s US$53 million arms sale to Bahrain, in spite of resolute opposition by some in the US Congress and civil society. Earlier the pusillanimous response by the Obama administration to the Al-Khalifa regime’s crackdown (through extra-judicial means and military support from outside support in the region) betrayed US pro-democracy agenda in the Middle East as being devoid of geopolitical considerations. Bahrain is home to the US naval headquarters in the Gulf and is an important ally for the US in its military and containment strategy towards Iran.
Similarly, the cast of now-discredited regimes in the Middle East – Egypt’s Mubarak for three decades; Tunisia’s Ben Ali for two decades; Libya’s Gaddafi in power for over four decades; Syria’s father and, now, son for four decades – were all dutiful sycophancies of the west. They could not have survived without the patronage of the leading outside powers. For example, the US remained a staunch supporter of the Mubarak regime knowing well about his autocratic rule and human rights violations.
Similar national security exigencies led the US to support Tunisian (and Yemeni) autocratic leader(s). They were viewed as important, however fleeting, cogs in the US security framework, especially in America’s war on terror and counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In these instances, the United States always subordinated its commitments toward democracy and human rights when it suited its national interest – as we are seeing with the US support of the Al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain and its indifference to the “yearning[s] for liberty and universal rights” of beleaguered Bahrainis.
Likewise, the US vetoes any Security Council resolution objectionable to Israel over the Palestinian-Israel conflict, even when there is broad international consensus about the culpable party. Nobody talks about the “neutered” UNSC then, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterised the UNSC after the Russian and Chinese veto of Syria resolution. For instance, regarding Israeli illegal settlements, which have been deemed in clear contravention of international law, the United States vetoed the proposed UNSC resolution (in 2011) that called upon Israel to dismantle and stop illegal settlements. US also vetoed the UNSC resolution that signalled Israel over disproportionate use of force during the 2006 Gaza conflict and war with Lebanon.
In both cases US credibility was seriously questioned when the US turned a blind eye to the Israeli incursions in which civilians were the main causalities of lethal force. These publicly documented instances of US repudiation of any UNSC resolution – over legitimate issues pertinent to peace and stability in the Middle East in the face of clear violation of international law – appear to demonstrate that it is the leading international power that has rendered the UN a “theatre of absurd.”
Thus it is disingenuous to suggest that Russia and China, however untenable their vetoes on Syria, are preventing the UNSC from “fulfilling its duties.” Again, US is being hypocritical with references to the sacrosanctity of the UNSC as the bastion of international law and peace which it itself breaches when it blocks any resolution perceived to be “unjust” to Israel; Or, when the US arrogates itself the power, without the explicit approval of the UNSC, to unilaterally infringe upon sovereign territories of other countries.
While Ambassador Rice waxes euphonious rhetoric about democracy and sanctity of human rights from her lectern at the Security Council, it is important for the long-term credibility of the US in the region and its foreign policy objectives (especially democracy promotion agenda in the Middle East) to have a consistent policy in the Middle East that is untethered from security and material considerations and preferential support of some countries in the region. Otherwise, US will remain vulnerable to charges of downright hypocrisy with battle for “hearts and minds” in the Middle East remaining an ever elusive and distant proposition.
The writer is a doctoral candidate in the department of political science, University of Western Ontario. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org