America — the founder of the United Nations, its biggest benefactor, and once its leading power player — now hides behind the skirts of the UN’s diplomats.
Exaggeration? It’s hard to escape President Biden’s attempts, via his aides, to convey a hyped-up, almost comical confidence in the magical powers of the UN to change realities in places like Afghanistan
In the face of horrifying images of deadly chaos at Kabul’s airport and reports of the Taliban conducting door to door executions, Mr. Biden appeared to be unable to slow — or even gauge — the catastrophe that his decisions had precipitated. Instead, he hid at Camp David
So it was the United Nations to the rescue, after a fashion. With Mr. Biden practically AWOL as the largest crisis of his presidency unfolds, Washington officials touted one success: uniting on Monday the 15-member Security Council behind a press statement, its least enforceable form of action. They presented that statement as a silver bullet with which to scare the Taliban into submission.
America’s Turtle Bay ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told CNN, “We have expressed in no uncertain terms here at the United Nations, through a very strongly-worded press statement from the Security Council, that we expect the Taliban to respect human rights, including the rights of women and girls. We have also indicated that they have to be respectful of humanitarian law.”
The State Department spokesman, Ned Price, added in his daily briefing, “The UN Security Council . . . spoke with one voice to underscore that Afghanistan must abide by its international obligations, including to international humanitarian law, and insure the safety and security of all Afghans and international citizens.”
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, spent the crisis at his Delaware home and at Camp David. On Monday he delivered a widely-panned speech from the White House, after which he immediately hightailed back to Camp David. He then spent some more quality time at Delaware before, finally, returning to Washington today.
During that time the commander in chief declined to brief Congress on steps, if any, taken to ease the stress of up to 15,000 American citizens trapped in the Afghan mess that his decisions have created. Also ignored were a number of Afghans that have aided America for 20 years and now face the Taliban’s ire, and likely their bullets, too.
After the press outcry following National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s disclosure Tuesday that Mr. Biden has not consulted any foreign leader since the crisis started, the White House hastily arranged a quick phone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. That was far from enough to calm global fears about America’s commitment to participate in, let alone lead, world affairs.
At the UN’s headquarters at Turtle Bay, New York, speeches were made, briefings were listened to, and allies united behind meaningless pronouncements. How meaningless? To pass Monday’s statement, all 15 council members had to agree, including Beijing, which earlier had rushed to recognize the Taliban rule and is widely expected to be its top benefactor.
UN officials, meanwhile, confirmed today that 100 international staffers stationed in Afghanistan, where they’ve courageously attended to humanitarian needs, were evacuated from the country. They will now work remotely from neighboring Kazakhstan.
Why? Hasn’t the Security Council assured us in strong words that the Taliban would behave? Taliban officials have played along, assuring reporters that their murderous, fanatical organization has mellowed and will now respect international norms. At Kabul, however, that charm offensive looked as promising as a vacuous Security Council press statement.
After initial chaotic scenes at Hamid Karzai international airport earlier this week, American soldiers secured the place for incoming and outgoing flights. Yet, access roads to the airport were seized by Taliban fighters. They quickly erected checkpoints to assure that the Taliban, and only the Taliban, can decide who may leave and who deserves a bullet in the head.
The Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal jointly appealed to Mr. Biden to save translators they’ve employed. So did American soldiers and contractors who have acquired allies in Afghanistan. Scant assurances were given.
What would America do if the Taliban does kill such persons or violates other international norms? When asked, Mr. Sullivan said he can’t disclose details, but sanctions will be part of the response.
This from an administration that elsewhere has argued sanctions are less effective to deter Iran from reaching nuclear capacities than agreements like the 2015 nuclear deal. That deal, remember, was never presented to a Senate ratification as a treaty, enshrined instead in a UN Security Council resolution that supposedly obliges everyone.
The idea that Turtle Bay can replace America as a leading liberty beacon has infiltrated Washington’s thinking much deeper than it deserves.