Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Ambassador Power’s High-Ground Legacy
Emblematic of her historic oratory as US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power concluded her high-ground career the way she began it. In her final address on January 17, she figuratively grabbed the international community by its lapels and shook it – diplomatically – so it wouldn’t neglect the fate of the world and the former captive nations.
The Ambassador did not waste the opportunity to warn incoming President Donald J. Trump and the new officials Inside the Beltway that Russia is the single major threat facing the United States.
After citing the friendlier moments from US-Russian contentious relations, including mutual concerns regarding radical Islamic terrorism, Ambassador Power declared: “Having said that, anyone who has seen my debates in the UN Security Council with Russia knows that I and my government have long had serious concerns about its government’s aggressive and destabilizing actions.”
She went on to detail how Russian President Vladimir Putin has weakened the “rules-based order” that has benefitted the global community for seven decades.
“Our values, our security, our prosperity, and our very way of life are tied to this order. And we – and by we, I mean the United States and our closest partners – must come together to prevent Russia from succeeding,” she declared.
The US diplomat listed the following musts: better understanding and education the American public about how Russia is changing this historic order; reaffirming American commitment to the rules and institutions have undergirded this order for many years; using new tools to counter Russian tactics for undermining this order; and addressing the vulnerabilities in America’s democracy that Russia’s attacks have exposed and exacerbated.
“To do this, we cannot let Russia divide us. If we confront this threat together, we will adapt and strengthen the order on which our interests depend,” Power urged.
While she didn’t mention any US official by name, including President-elect Trump, even a cursory viewing of the today’s news would reveal that America is more divided today than any time in the past. Russia’s fifth column activity and psychological operations have certainly contributed to this dangerous state that can make the US ripe for picking by Moscow as I wrote in a previous blog.
Ambassador Power clarified that the international order that Russia is threatening includes the UN Charter and its rule that the borders between sovereign states should be respected, an obvious allusion to Russia’s numerous recent invasions of sovereign UN member-states.
“The vast majority of countries recognize that we all benefit from having rules of the road that constrain certain kinds of behavior to enhance our shared security – rules that must not be rewritten by force,” she said.
To be sure, she continued, the United States has not always lived up to what it preaches. However, she said, despite shortcomings under President Obama, the Unites States has shown its commitment to investing in and abiding by the rules-based international order.
“The same cannot be said for the Russian government today. For years, we have seen Russia take one aggressive and destabilizing action after another. We saw it in March 2014 – not long after mass peaceful protests in Ukraine brought to power a government that favored closer ties with Europe – when Russia dispatched its soldiers to the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. The ‘little green men,’ as they came to be called – for Russia denied any ties to them – rammed through a referendum at the barrel of a gun, which Mr. Putin then used to justify his sham annexation of Crimea,” Power recalled.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, first in Crimea and a few months later in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, has been a recurring theme of Ambassador Power’s speeches at UN Security Council meetings. In her remarks she often cited evidence of Russia’s arming, training and fighting alongside the separatist-terrorists. Moscow’s reply was standard: It denied any role, flouting, as she said, the international obligation to respect territorial integrity of its neighbor.
Power also included Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s brutal war in Syria and then participation in the assault against Syrian people which resulted in killing thousands of innocent civilians in her list of Moscow’s evil doings.
But the list doesn’t end there.
“We saw it in Russia’s efforts to undercut the credibility of international institutions like the UN. For example, in an emergency UN Security Council meeting last month, then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the member-states that the Assad regime forces and Iranian militias were reportedly disappearing men as they took parts of eastern Aleppo. In response, the representative of Russia – which was providing air cover for the offensive – not only claimed that Russian investigations had uncovered ‘not a single report of ill treatment or violations of international humanitarian law against civilians of eastern Aleppo,’ but also accused the Secretary-General of basing his information on ‘fake news.’ Minutes later, Syria’s representative echoed Russia’s line, holding up as proof what he claimed was a photograph of a Syrian government soldier helping an elderly woman. The only problem was that the photo was taken six months earlier, in June 2016. In Fallujah, Iraq,” she said.
Russia’s assault against the world continued apace. Power said Russia sought to systematically sow doubt and division in democracies, and drive a wedge between the US and its closest allies, and supported illiberal parties like France’s National Front, which has a xenophobic, anti-Muslim platform.
Russia also took aim at Germany. The Ambassador cited German intelligence agencies to disclose that groups linked to the Russian government carried out a massive May 2015 attack targeting the German parliament, energy companies, telecoms, and even universities. Recently, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency reported an alarming spike in “aggressive and increased cyber-spying and cyber-operations that could potentially endanger German government officials, members of parliament, and employees of democratic parties,” which the agency attributed to Russian hackers. The head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service said the perpetrators’ aim is “delegitimizing the democratic process.”
This abominable list of crimes and dirty actions belong to Putin’s Russia, which President-elect refuses to acknowledge while continuing to favor Moscow versus US government officials and evidence to the contrary.
“It is in this context that one must view the Russian government’s latest efforts to interfere in America’s democracy,” Ambassador Power forebodingly warned.
“As our intelligence community found, we know that the Russian government sought to interfere in our presidential election, with the goals of undermining public faith in the US democratic process, denigrating one candidate, and helping the other candidate. Our intelligence agencies assess that the campaign was ordered by President Putin, and implemented by a combination of Russian government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and government-paid trolls.”
Disputing thoughts that the string of Russia’s global interventions is unrelated, Power pointed out that the common thread is not in anything the Russia supports but rather in what Moscow is against.
“Not in the rules it follows, but in the ones it breaks. Russia’s actions are not standing up a new world order. They are tearing down the one that exists. This is what we are fighting against – having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism,” she said.
Her previous comment points, as I have written in this blog, to a common thread of authoritarianism, nihilism, aggression, belligerence, repression, subjugation, persecution and murder that runs through all that wield power in the Kremlin regardless of era or politics.
One reason why Russia has unleashed such a destructive campaign against the world order, she surmised, “is to regain a sense of its past glory, or to get back at the countries that it blames for the break-up of the Soviet Union, which President Putin has called the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.’”
In other words, to repair the torn curtain and rebuild its prison of nations.
So what is the world going to do to address this threat, she asked.
First, Power said, is to work in a bipartisan fashion to determine the full extent of Russia’s interference in the US recent elections, identify the vulnerabilities of the American democratic system, and come up with targeted recommendations for preventing future attacks.
She explained that the purpose of such an effort is to identify the gaps in American defenses that Russia exploited – “as well as other gaps that may not have been seized upon in this attack, but that Russia or others could take advantage of in the future. And the purpose is to determine the steps needed to close such gaps and strengthen the resilience of our system.”
She said it would be naïve and negligent to consider that just because Russia was once caught committing these crimes that it or any other country wouldn’t do it again.
“Allowing politics to get in the way of determining the full extent of Russia’s meddling and how best to protect our democracy would undermine our core national security interests,” she said.
Next, she continued, the US has to do a better job of informing Americans about the seriousness of the threat the Russian government poses. Unity here is crucial, she emphasized, because when making conflicting messages about a threat Russia poses, the American people receive mixed messages.
This consequently leads to confusion and national confusion about what is the threat, who is the enemy and what’s to be done about it gives the perpetrator – Russia – the opportunity to intensify its assault not only against the US but also Ukraine, the x-captive nations, and the free world.
Ambassador Power cited an alarming statistic that 37% of Republicans today hold a favorable view of Putin, up from just 10% in July 2014. Any favorable opinion of Putin is deplorable, but coming from the GOP is more disgraceful. Where are Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan when the US needs them?
She urged the new Administration to maintain Washington’s robust support for NATO while making clear America’s steadfast commitment to treat an attack on any NATO member as an attack on us all as well as expectations that all NATO allies will do their part in keeping the alliance strong.
“That also means maintaining the sanctions placed on Russia, including those imposed by President Obama in response to Russia’s meddling in our election. Now, some have argued that the most effective way to get Russia to start playing by the rules that undergird the international order is actually by easing sanctions. If only we reduce the pressure, they claim, Russia will stop lashing out against the international order. But they have it backwards: easing punitive measures on the Russian Government when they haven’t changed their behavior will only embolden Russia – sending the message that the best way to gain international acceptance of its destabilizing actions is simply to wait us out. And that will not only encourage more dangerous actions by Russia, but also by other rule-breakers like Iran and North Korea, which are constantly testing how far they can move the line without triggering a response,” she said.
Power also discounted any suggestion that the United States should put recent transgressions aside and announce another “reset” with Russia.
She warned against continuing to use the same tactics and means against Russia that seem to have succeeded in the recent past because now cyberspace attacks and fake news have entered the realm of possible weapons. Power noted that Russia’s willingness to lie turned reporting into an “on the one hand, on the other hand” story, even in respected outlets like the New York Times, the BBC and CNN.
“In other words, lying is a strategic asset. It didn’t matter whether Russia’s accounts were accurate or even consistent; all that mattered was that Russia injected enough counterclaims into the news cycle to call into question who was responsible,” she added.
In a pithy phrase: “Deny and lie.”
Another method of fighting Russia’s assault, Power said, is to continue to seek ways to engage directly with the Russian people and their government.
“It can be easy to forget that virtually all the tactics the Russian Government is using to undermine democracy abroad are ones they fine-tuned on the Russian people, to devastating effect. After all, when Russian soldiers are killed fighting in a conflict in eastern Ukraine that their government denies it has any role in – it’s Russian mothers, widows, and orphans who are denied the benefits and recognition they deserve as the family members of slain soldiers. The mafias that the Russian government uses to sow corruption abroad profit most off the backs of the Russian people. And it is Russian journalists and human rights defenders who have been harassed, beaten, and even killed for uncovering their government’s abuses,” she said, cautioning that it is important to distinguish between the Russian government and people.
The US should continue engaging with the Russian government by collaborating on issues of shared interest to demonstrate that both countries have more to gain by working to shore up the system of shared rules and principles than by destroying it.
But at the same time the US should be vigilant and responsive to its ongoing transgressions.
By renewing American people’s faith in the democratic system and principles that the Founding Fathers created, which Russia intends to destroy, will help Washington persevere against Moscow, she said.
“But we know not only what we are against; we know what we are for. So, just as we are clear-eyed about the threat Russia poses from the outside, and unified in confronting it, we must also dedicate ourselves to restoring citizens’ faith in our democracy on the inside – which always has been the source of America’s strength, and always will be our best defense against any foreign power that tries to do us harm,” she concluded.
Ambassador Power will be retiring from her post on Friday, January 20. Without a doubt, her departure from the hallowed halls of the United Nations and US government will leave a large gap that must be filled by her successor. Ukraine and the former captive nations will lose a strong advocate in the face of Russia’s ceaseless aggression. The free world will lose a steadfast champion for human rights, liberties and the moral high road.
Without presupposing the future, the incoming Administration is not of this vital mindset. The designated US Permanent Representative, Nikki Haley, has not yet revealed her beliefs.
However, the US and Haley must be inclined to pursue Ambassador Power’s high-ground policies not merely for the benefit of the former captive nations but because Washington is honor bound not to shirk from its moral values of preserving and fostering democratic principles, human rights and morals in a world gone haywire.