Syrian Tragedy, UN Deadlock and Restoring US Global Leadership


When Russia and China recently blocked support at the UN for the Arab League’s Syria transition plan, they in effect gave Bashar al Assad the go-ahead for continued savagery.  Taking a longer view, we can only hope the resulting outrage spurs Beijing and Moscow to take a different stance the next time. Meanwhile, the contrast with the US position, siding with the Arab League and Assad’s victims, helps underscore the improvement in America’s international image in the last three years. This point was driven home by a recent post over at The Economist’s Democracy in America blog, which discusses the Syria showdown at the UN as proof of a crucial yet underappreciated success of Obama foreign policy:

Ten years back, America often found itself isolated, struggling to pull together “coalitions of the willing” packed with small client states. Lately, we have been finding ourselves in the majority, along with the democratic world, while Russia and China front a dwindling coalition of the unwilling.

Yes, President Obama has shown a remarkable ability to forge a united international front on issue after issue. The quantum increase in support for US positions and initiatives is a much bigger deal than media assessments have acknowledged. As other nations have become more welcoming toward the United States’ global role, the president can make a strong claim to have rehabilitated American leadership.

Do voters care about America’s global image?

Actually if I’d fault the Economist writer for anything, it’s that s/he lacks the courage of her own optimism.  I disagree when the blogger says it’s too bad Obama can’t use this part of his record as a plank in his reelection platform. Voters recognize the importance of international goodwill toward the United States just as readily as the writer does. If not, then why do you think the public was so horrified to see Bush and Cheney defiantly thumbing their noses at the rest of the world? (The big mystery to me is why on earth the current crop of candidates have tacked back toward Cheney-esque chest-thumping.) More to the point, though, all signals from the White House put this success in their “top three” foreign policy achievements of the first term: winding down the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, decimating Al Qaeda, and greater receptivity and trust around the world of US leadership.

Interestingly, James Fallows of The Atlantic makes the exact same underestimation of voters in his rigorous new assessment of Obama’s presidency. Here’s how he concludes a paragraph stressing the importance of America’s improved standing in the world:

These changes can make a real difference for American ideals and interests, but it is hard to mention them in American political debates without sounding “French.”

So I’ll try to say this in my very best American accent (whatever that is):  it is difficult if not impossible to accomplish America’s international aims — disrupt terror networks, keep the global economy strong, stem the spread of nuclear weapons — without the support and help of others. Is this really so hard to get across to the voting public?

International support crucial for many issues

One key point is how the importance of international support applies across a wide range of issues. You can see this within the Democracy in America post, which is ostensibly about the nations aligned with America in opposition to a butcherous Syrian regime but also notes the Southeast Asian countries grateful for US help in resisting China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. In other words, those who pigeonhole such forward-leaning diplomacy as “soft power” are missing the point.

Which brings us to the problem of Iran. Whenever you hear about President Obama’s success in ratcheting up the toughest set of sanctions ever imposed on Iran, you should think about the massive diplomatic effort required to accomplish this. And it is ongoing. Our friends at Center for American Progress, for instance, remind us that discussion of Iran with China has continued throughout the past three years and is bound to be on the agenda for Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit next week.

Given America’s difficult history with Iran and close alliance with Israel, there’s been a tendency in the international politics of the Iranian nuclear program to view the issue as a pet cause of the United States — rather than a truly shared nuclear proliferation problem. This is the essence of the challenge, and of the Obama administration’s success, in recasting American leadership. A measure of an effective foreign policy is to convince others that the United States is upholding important norms of the international community — preserving a social contract — and not just a big bad superpower. That’s the point of President Obama’s frequent references to the obligations and responsibilities of nations, including our own (e.g. the New START nuclear arms treaty).

After reading this skepticism in The Economist and The Atlantic about America’s improved international image as a campaign theme, I looked back at some of my own posts from four years ago. In 2008, candidate Obama could aim his foreign policy argument at a public deeply unsettled at how out of step with the rest of the world we had gotten — and acutely aware what trouble it could cause us. In 2012, President Obama runs for re-election having put these ideas about a more conscientious style of global leadership into action. And his record shows that they work.


Related Stories:

US Closes Its Embassy in Syria; More Deaths in Homs

BREAKING: Russia and China Veto UN Resolution on Syria

Syria Hovers Nearer and Nearer Civil War


The image of Sec. Clinton at the UN Security Council is from the US Mission to the UN


Marianna B M.

thomas you are prejudice and extremely stupid

Anne Cole
.6 years ago

Jeffrey W. One sided? I'm shocked.

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W6 years ago

Care2 one-sided? I'm shocked.

Care2 makes Daily Kos look fair and balanced in comparison. Why have there been no stories about Fast and Furious, the crony capitalism and losses of billions of taxpayer dollars in the so-called "green energy" companies? How about Obama's serial evading of congressional will through directives? Or the ethics and tax issues of Media Matters?

Really, you can't manage even one conservative voice here?

Martin L.
Martin L6 years ago


groups like Care2, the US administration, Western Leaders and the Arab League will have the blood on their hands if an intervention goes ahead.

It’s funny, only Russia has called for talks between the rebels and the Assad Regime to take place and only the United States, Western Leaders, Arab League and organizations like Care2 are calling for military intervention. Peace comes about, not from bloodshed and wars but from bringing all sides together and talking.

So who stands on the side of a peaceful outcome in Syria? I will leave you to work that one out, because your hysterical accusations against one side in this conflict speaks for itself.

That was my contribution and complaint to Care2 earlier today and I stand by my belief that there are 2 sides involved in the Syrian violence and yet the United States, their Western Poodle allies and the Arab League only condemn one side. That is a disgrace and shows the appalling lack of Foreign policy on the side of the aforementioned to bring this bloody civil war in Syria to a peaceful conclusion. When will other countries like the USA, Great Britain France and others stop meddling and demanding regime change. The leaders of these countries rhetoric and kak handed interventions makes matters far worse.

Martin L.
Martin L6 years ago

Care2 recently launched a one-sided petition condeming the Syrian violence. I wrote a complaint as follows and is very relevant as a response to this latest political Care2 thread:

This latest petition is a disgrace, following on so closely from the United States, Arab League Countries and European Countries to intervene in Syria’s Sovereign affairs. Your petition is one sided and does not mention the fact that many of the deaths in Syria are committed by supporters of the opposition, namely, the so-called Free Syrian Army and various terror groups now operating in Syria who are carrying out daily shootings and other atrocities to get the West etc believing that all the atrocities are being carried out by Assad's forces.

Rather than condemning the Syrian Regime you should be condemning both sides in their killings against civilians. Sadly like many other organizations who claim to support the "Right Side" Care2 are behaving as one of many one-sided mouth pieces for Western and Arab League Sates, many who have appalling Humane Rights records.

China and Russia recently vetoed the United States, European and Arab Leagues States attempt to carry out a Libyan style intervention in Syria and rightly so because thousands of civilians were killed during the so called Humanitarian mission in Libya to protect innocent civilians; but this is what this disgraceful petition is leading towards. Far from Russia or China having the blood of Syrians on their hand, groups like

Billie C.
Billie C6 years ago

it's amazing they hate us over there until they want help then it's why aren't you over here invading us. if we invaded them they would be screaming to get us out. that entire part of the world is crazy and we should step away and let them deal with it on their own. that's what the arab league is for. obama's kiss butt tour didn't do anything to help at all. it's just makes the world think that we will bow down to anything they want to do. obama still hasn't a clue and he needs to go.

Dr Clue
Dr Clue6 years ago

More helpings of "freedom fries" from the folks whose only plan is more of the same that got us into trouble.

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W6 years ago

"People are being brutally murdered and all you can do is try and turn this into a shot on Obama."

You obviously didn't read David Shorr's silly little post, or you simply lack reading comprehension. He was the one touting Obama's leadership - I wasn't the one making it about Obama.

People are being butchered partly because of Obama's incompetence.

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W6 years ago

"What is about the French that scares Americans?"

What is it that makes you think it scares us? Or do you labor under the misconception that disagree and fear are synonymous?

Beth S.
Beth S6 years ago

Exactly, Jeffrey W.

For all of Obama's groveling in the Muslim world, they hate him. Look at all the credibility and influence he has in Egypt, where they're now holding Americans hostage/prisoners, burning American flags, making vitriolic anti-American speeches and in the process of installing an Islamist theocratic government.

Qaddafi made friendly overtures to the U.S., got rid of its WMD and how did Obama reward him?

Iranians demonstrating for REAL freedom are brutally attacked and repressed by this nuclear bomb-hungry Islamist theocracy. What does Obama do to show support for their cause? 0

Middle Eastern rulers that have had friendly relations with the U.S. can see that Obama's friendship isn't worth much. And there seems to be no Arab-Spring-inspired Islamist, Sharia-compliant government he won't give the okay to.

And this from a guy who has Muslim Brotherhood people in his own administration, guiding him on policy. The same Muslim Brotherhood that wants to "ruin their (our) miserable house from within" and make Islam THE religion of America.

Bush led us to one set of disasters, and now Obama is swinging the other way into an even greater set of disasters. We traded one incompetent foreign policy president for another incompetent president who harbors a 5th column in his own White House.