Can Barack Obama ever trust the United Nations Security Council again? And will the Security Council, and the U.N. more broadly, trust the U.S. president? Last week, Obama vented his frustration with diplomacy over Syria at a press conference during the G-20 summit in Russia. Asked why he had called for military action in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s resort to the use of chemical weapons, Obama claimed the alternatives “would be some resolutions that were being proffered in the United Nations and the usual hocus-pocus.”
This was a sour if pithy turn of phrase from a president who has scored some significant victories at the U.N., ranging from tighter sanctions on Iran to a mandate for military action in Libya. But Obama and his advisers have made it clear that they are weary of negotiating with Russia and China over Syria. “In short,” the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, told a Washington audience on Friday, “the Security Council the world needs to deal with this urgent crisis is not the Security Council we have.”
It is hard to argue with that. As I have noted in previous columns, throughout the Syrian crisis Russia has bamboozled the U.S. with deceptive offers of diplomatic cooperation and wrecking tactics in the Security Council. A sizeable majority of the U.N.’s members have signed onto General Assembly resolutions implicitly criticizing Russia’s stance. But Obama and his team should be aware that many diplomats, including those representing America’s allies, think the U.S. is guilty of “hocus-pocus” too.