When President Obama made Susan Rice his ambassador to the United Nations, in 2009, he thought the job was so vital that he gave her cabinet rank. Now, here we are, with the Arab world in tumult, two dictators gone in the past two months, and the UN aflutter over scenes of Libyans dying this past week by the hundreds, or thousands, in outright rebellion against a raving Moammar Gaddafi — who has been vowing to “fight to the last drop of blood.” Gaddafi’s atrocities are so visibly horrific that the UN Security Council has been meeting on Libya in emergency session. In Geneva, the Human Rights Council interrupted its usual anti-Israel programming to hold its own emergency session on Friday, and engage in the novel activity of demanding the suspension of Libya from its ranks and a probe into Gaddafi’s abuses in Libya. Even Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon cut short a UN public relations recruiting trip to Hollywood early this week, in order to phone Gaddafi and dash back to New York.
Where’s Susan Rice, the cabinet rank ambassador of the free world’s superpower? On the day Hosni Mubarak stepped down as dictator of Egypt, Feb. 11, she was visiting Oregon to give a talk on “Why America Needs the United Nations.” This week, as Libyans escalated their uprising against more than 41 years of Gaddafi’s totalitarian, terror-based reign, Rice sent her deputy to an emergency Security Council meeting on Libya on Tuesday, and took off for a two-day meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.
What was so urgent about this this meeting in Cape Town? Did it have anything to do with the droves of Libyan diplomats, from New York to Geneva to Cairo, now renouncing the Gaddafi regime? Did it have anything to do with the warning of Libya’s deputy ambassador to the UN that Gaddafi, with his threats of house-to-house assaults, was launching a genocide against Libyans who defied him? Did it have anything to do with mass rebellion roiling North Africa and the Middle East, and sending tremors as far as China and North Korea?
Nope. This was a two-day meeting of — what else? — the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability. As a press release from the U.S. Mission to the UN explains it — (please take a deep breath and try to stay awake for this) — the mission of this 21-member panel, formed last summer by Ban Ki-Moon, is to “provide the Secretary-General with a final report by 2012 that will focus on practical solutions for putting countries on a sustainable path toward long-term growth and development.” Panelists include the president of the World Meteorological Organization, Russia’s Alexander Bedritsky; Switzerland’s Ahmadinejad-lovin’ foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey; and the woman who is perhaps the most sustained retread of every UN meeting on “sustainability” going back to the early 1980s, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. This is precisely the kind of crowd that’s been telling us all to cut back on jet travel in order to reduce carbon emissions, and one might suppose they’d have applauded a decision by Rice to videoconference in from New York and spend the rest of her time on Libya. Apparently there were other priorities.
Last Sunday, before embarking on her trip to South Africa, Ambassador Rice turned up on Meet the Press to note that the U.S. administration had condemned attacks on civilians in Libya, and comment, before she took off, that despite the murder of protesters in Libya’s second-largest city of Benghazi, “There has been less violence, very little so far in Tripoli.” Before the returning Rice outdoes clueless Director of National Intelligence Eric Clapper, maybe someone should brief her that for both the UN and Libya — where Tripoli, the redoubt of a fist-waving Gaddafi, has become a place of gunfire and slaughter — it’s been a busy week. Maybe someone should also brief President Obama that it’s time for a new ambassador to the UN.