US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power delivered a strong rebuke to the United Nations over its inability to act on Syria. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — In the course of her remarks Friday advocating military strikes on Syria, US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power delivered a strong rebuke to the UN Security Council for its failure to condemn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people.
Power also said that the United States has all but given up on any political solution to the Syrian civil war that isn’t brought about by the use of American arms to force the Assad regime to the negotiating table.
Over the past year the United States has repeatedly reached out to the Assad regime both directly and though proxies like Russia, the United Nations, and even Iran to seek a diplomatic solution she said, but the Assad regime has ignored or rejected the overtures.
Speaking at the Center for American Progress in Washington, Power said that “we have exhausted the alternatives” short of war, and given the UN Security Council’s refusal to act it is up to the US to “employ limited military means to achieve very specific ends — to degrade Assad’s capacity to use these weapons again, and deter others in the world who might follow suit.”
The preferred method would be to work through the UN Security Council, but Russia and China have blocked “every relevant action in the Security Council, even mild condemnations of the use of chemical weapons that did not ascribe blame to any particular party,” Power said.
By staying silent the Security Council has failed to live up both to its “promise or its responsibilities,” she declared. While the Obama administration would prefer to work through the Council, “we would if we could, but we can't.”
In some of the most sharply worded comments made by a US official about the UN in some time, the ambassador asserted that “in short, the security council the world needs to deal with this urgent crisis is not the security council we have.”
A celebrated academic and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning history of genocide in the 20th century A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Power emerged as one of the leading voices urging president Obama to intervene in Libya in 2011.
Known for championing the concept of “Responsibility to Protect” — known as R2P — which calls for nations to intervene in conflicts to protect innocent civilians, Power might have been expected to make that case on Friday.
Instead, the ambassador echoed previous claims made by the Obama administration that the attacks on the Syrian regime and its military arm would in many ways be less about avenging the Syrian civilians killed in the attacks, and more about issuing a warning to other regimes contemplating using chemical or nuclear weapons in the future.
If the chemical weapons attack of Aug. 21 on a Damascus suburb “is not met with a meaningful response, other regimes will seek to acquire or use them to protect or extend their power, increasing risks to American troops in the future,” she said.
Following Secretary of State Kerry and the president in their own remarks over the past two weeks, Power said that “we cannot afford to signal to North Korea and Iran that the international community is unwilling to act to prevent proliferation or willing to tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction. If there are no consequences now for breaking the prohibition on chemical weapons, it will be harder to muster an international consensus to ensure that Hizballah and other terrorist groups are prevented from acquiring or using these weapons themselves.”
The US House and Senate are back in session next week, with the authorization to use force in Syria at the top of their dockets.