Barack Obama, John Kerry and Joe Biden last decade scolded the Bush administration for disregarding the United Nations Security Council. But up until Vladimir Putin's offer to remove Syria's chemical weapons, Team Obama was ready to disregard the Security Council, which it attacked as feckless.
Go back to the Bush-era debates over confirming conservative hawk John Bolton to various foreign policy posts, and you’ll find Kerry, Biden and Obama preaching deference to the United Nations.
“I am concerned about whether Mr. Bolton even believes the U.N. is a viable institution and a useful instrument of U.S. foreign policy,” Obama said in 2005, explaining why he would filibuster Bolton’s nomination as ambassador to the UN.
Back in 2001, then-Sen. John Kerry voted against confirming Bolton as undersecretary of State, asking rhetorically during a hearing, “Am I asked to vote for the John Bolton who believes this" — i.e., that the U.N. is not a functioning organization?
Contrast that to Obama’s ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, speaking over the weekend in favor of attacking Syria, after the U.N. Security Council had blocked almost all sanctions against Syria: “The Security Council the world needs to deal with this urgent crisis is not the Security Council we have.”
Power also said, “The international system that was founded in 1945, a system we designed specifically to respond to the kinds of horrors we saw play out in World War II, has not lived up to its promise or its responsibilities in the case of Syria."
Secretary of State Susan Rice, Obama’s previous ambassador to the U.N., sounded a similar note, saying Obama “would much prefer the backing of the United Nations Security Council” before attacking. “But let’s be realistic — it’s just not going to happen now. Believe me, I know. I was there for all of those U.N. debates and negotiations on Syria. I lived it. And it was shameful.”
This sort of anti-U.N. talk from Rice, Obama and Power would have earned a tongue-lashing last decade from Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Then-Sen. Joe Biden filibustered Bolton because, as Biden suggested in a 2006 hearing, Bolton didn’t “understand that American power is most effective when it is legitimated by global consensus.”
Biden pointedly asked Bolton “how important” it was to him “that particularly our European allies and the United States are on the same page” when dealing rogue nations.
Another filibusterer on Foreign Affairs was Kerry, now Obama’s secretary of state. Kerry chastised Bolton’s approach to North Korea: “You don't have Russia, you don't have China and you don't have South Korea.”
Of course, in threatening to bomb Syria this week, Kerry was unfazed that he didn't have Russia or China.
Kerry warned back then that Bolton’s penchant for acting without allies was weakening the U.S. by isolating the U.S.
“It's hard to pick up the newspaper today, it's hard to talk to any leader anywhere in the world,” Kerry lamented in 2006, “it's hard to travel abroad as a senator and not run headlong into the isolation of the United States and the divisions that exist between us and our allies on any number of different issues.”
Kerry, during his 2004 White House run, also famously said non-defensive wars were valid only if they passed “the global test, where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.”
Judging by the recent rhetoric of Obama, Rice and Power, that global test has been shelved.
This delights many conservative hawk veterans of the Bush administration. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told me that the Syria experience demonstrates “that the U.S. can’t afford to give the Security Council – meaning Russia and China, or sometimes even France — a veto over our ability to act. “
“The next time liberals insist that a U.S. president must get U.N. Security Council approval, that President can remind the country of Obama’s reference to U.N. 'hocus pocus,' his 'coalition' of 24 not-very-willing countries (including Albania and Honduras), or the statements of Obama’s own Secretary of State, National Security Adviser and U.N. Ambassador.”
You could call Obama, Kerry, Biden, Rice and Power a group of liberals mugged by the U.N. Security Council.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.