A hit job on Susan Rice written by John Bolton’s former spokesperson is making its rounds on the internet. The author, Richard Grenell, tries to make the case that Rice is forsaking her duties at the United Nations in order to spend more time in Washington, D.C. His evidence? Grenell cites a study by the estimable Security Council Report, which is a valuable research organization run out of Columbia University in New York. The report shows that the number of formal Security Council meetings and formal decisions taken by the Council (in the form of resolutions or so-called “press statements”) has declined dramatically in 2009. The report offers a number of possible suggestions about why this may be the case, but offers no firm conclusions. The report also stresses that the number of formal decisions taken by the Security Council is a metric that does not show the full scope of Security Council activity.
But in a Huffington Post item titled “new study suggests ambassador isn’t engaging the UN” Grenell says that it shows a “lack of American leadership” which he attributes to the fact that Rice spends more time than in Washington, D.C. than any of the four Republican Ambassadors for whom he worked.
The thing is, the report makes no such claim about American leadership. He is simply distorting the report — for which he does not even bother to provide a link–to invent his own conclusion. In fact, the report itself says in plain English that “more is not necessarily better” and that “progress is not measured only by formal decisions.” To wit:
Progress is not measured only by formal decisions
In looking at the possible factors which might have contributed to the decrease in Council activity in 2009, it is important to begin by acknowledging that metrics do not always show the full picture.
During 2009 Council members actually spent a great deal of time—in negotiation in meetings at the expert level—meetings which are not captured in any available statistics—or in working groups. These processes have produced some milestones that are not reflected by the bare numbers. A few examples include:
- establishment of a new expert group on protection of civilians;
- an intensive (and more transparent) review process for improved decision making on peacekeeping operations;
- new processes for better input from troop contributors;
- a new “working method”—the Informal Interactive Dialogue—which allowed the Council, eventually, to address the Sri Lanka situation;
- taking up nuclear and WMD disarmament (as opposed to simply the non-proliferation dimensions);
- significant new content in its resolution on protection of civilians;
- innovative procedural solutions for taking up cases not formally on the Council agenda (e.g. Guinea);
- an extensive open and transparent process for input to its review of resolution 1540; and
- a major revision of its processes for listing and delisting persons for targeted sanctions, including improvements to address due process criticism.
This bit of nuance seemed to have been lost in the midst of a baseless attack against the very person who has done more than any other ambassador in recent history to steer the United States toward a policy of constructive engagement with the UN.