Rubio: “When America fails to lead, the world becomes more dangerous. The United Nations is badly broken. And I hope we will work to force meaningful transparency and accountability reforms for the U.N. But so far, this administration does not seem very interested in doing so. And therefore, until we begin to take some positive steps in that direction, I will not be able to support Obama administration nominees who have not committed to significant reform of the U.N.”Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Senator Marco Rubio
U.S. Senate Floor Speech
August 1, 2013
I would like to take a few minutes today to discuss the nomination of Ms. Samantha Power’s to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Ms. Power is an impressive person. She has an inspiring personal story. Is clearly very intelligent. And she has already accomplished much in her career. However, I have three concerns about her nomination which I want to highlight today.
First, I am concerned about her unwillingness to directly answer questions I posed to her during her confirmation hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
At that hearing, I asked her about her past claim that the United States had committed “crimes” around the world that it needed to reckon with. I raised this question not to embarrass her, but rather to give her the opportunity to either point out examples of these crimes or to clarify what she meant by those comments. But instead, she kept avoiding directly addressing my question. She kept saying that “America was the greatest country in the world” and that she would not “apologize for America.”
I do not think it is unreasonable to be concerned about that statement. And I do not think it is unfair to be concerned about the fact that we are sending someone to represent us at the most important international forum in the world, who thinks the United States has committed crimes. We deserved an answer to this question, but instead we got a rehearsed line.
It was not only a missed opportunity. For me, these statements raise questions about her judgment even though I certainly do not question her patriotism.
Second, I am concerned that she is being appointed by a President whose foreign policy is fast becoming an utter and absolute failure. From crises in the Middle East, to strategic uncertainty in Asia, to a country that we were told was a partner now harboring a fugitive and a traitor who has done great damage to U.S. national security, the world is more dangerous and uncertain than it was when this President took office.
It is increasingly apparent that our foes are more willing than ever to challenge us. Even more troubling is that those who seek to emulate us, who desire the freedom that we all as Americans enjoy, are often left to fend for themselves, with little American support.
A strong, engaged America has been good for the world and for the American people. But when America fails to lead, the result is, as we see in Syria today, chaos that allows others with goals other than our own, to fill the void.
History taught us twice in the last century that even if we put our head in the sand and try to ignore the world’s problems, they will not ignore us.
I realize that the American people are weary of war. We have paid a tremendous price in lives and money in the war on radical Islamic terrorism. But to follow the advice of those, including some in the Republican Party, who advocate disengagement from the world would be a terrible mistake. If we follow their advice we will only pay a higher price in the long term.
Now let me be clear, that doesn’t mean that America can solve every problem or get engaged in every civil war on the planet. I would confess we also have voices here that are too eager to engage America in every conflict on the planet. We need to be very careful about when, where and how we engage American forces overseas.
But isolationism on the one hand and hyper intervention on the other are not our only two options. Between these two choices we have a third option. One based on a clear strategic view of our foreign policy.
A view that recognizes that the United States cannot solve every problem in the world, but also that there are very few problems in the world that can be solved without the United States. If a problem can be solved by using an international forum like the United Nations that is fine, but more often than not the U.N. can’t and won’t confront the problem. In the end, the truth is that America is still the only nation in the world able to form and lead coalitions to confront evil and solve problems. It is still the only nation on earth able to keep the seas open for trade. It is still the only nation capable of maintaining the safe balance of power in Asia and Europe. It is still the only nation on earth capable of preventing rogue nations from becoming nuclear powers. And it is still the only nation on earth capable of targeting and diminishing radical terrorist organizations who plot to attack and kill Americans here at home and around the world.
We should be careful when we get involved. Foreign aid is not a one way street. It should always be conditioned and based on our national interest. Military power should be employed judiciously and only where it can make a difference in defending our long term goals.
But we cannot pretend that if we ignore our enemies, they will ignore us. We must be involved. When we get involved, we must make sure not just that we are doing it the right way. We must make sure that we are doing it at the right time. Sometimes acting too late is worse than not acting at all. And when we get involved, it is ok to be motivated by humanitarian concerns, but our primary objective must always be to protect our people from those who do or may one day want to harm us.
This is the kind of clear strategic view of America’s role and of our interests that should guide our foreign policy. It is the kind of clear strategic thinking that the President has failed to lay out. And as a result, we see failure all around us.
The President dithered on Syria. Early in the rebellion against Assad, he should have tried to identify secular rebels and made sure they were the best armed and best trained group on the ground. But instead he decided to lead from behind and allow others to decide who to arm. The result is that today it is foreign fighters linked to Al Qaeda, who are the best armed and best equipped. And now I fear Syria is headed towards becoming like Afghanistan before 9/11, the premier operational area in the world for global jihadis.
He entered office with the naïve belief that we could convince Iran to become a responsible nation by being nicer to them. He missed the opportunity to voice support for those protesting the stolen elections in Iran in 2009. He wasted valuable years early in his Presidency not giving the Iranian threat priority. And now the Ayatollahs continue the march towards acquiring both nuclear weapons and long range missiles that could one day threaten the United States.
And he wasted time thinking that the cause of radical Islamic terrorism was that George W. Bush was hated in the Muslim world. But despite his speech in Cairo, his efforts to close Guantanamo and his elimination of the term “war on terror,” Al Qaeda continues to hate America. And even as I speak to you here today, they continue to plan attacks against America, here and around the world.
The President is not alone in failing to confront these threats. I am afraid that because of the success we have had in preventing another attack on the scale of 9/11, some of our leaders in both parties have been lulled into a sense of false security. I certainly support the privacy rights and expectations of all Americans. But, my colleagues, I also know for a fact that the surveillance programs our government uses have prevented attacks and saved American lives.
I think it is a mistake to dismiss privacy concerns as crazy. After all, we have a government whose tax collecting agency has targeted Americans for their political views.
But it is also a mistake to exaggerate them. After all, if a known terrorist is emailing or calling someone in the United States, we better be able to know who and where that person is. If Osama Bin Laden had been calling someone in the United States on their cell phone, I promise you it wasn’t his stockbroker. We better know, because they are still plotting against us. And not if, but when they strike again, the American people are going to turn to us and ask us, “What has the federal government been doing to prevent this?”
We live in a very dangerous world. These dangers call for a clear strategic vision on foreign policy. And this President, sadly, doesn’t have one.
Which brings me to my third and primary concern about Ms. Power’s nomination. It’s one related to the United Nations itself.
We need an advocate in New York who makes it their primary focus to ensure that the U.N. is more accountable, that it is more effective, and that it serves U.S. interests and is not just some multilateral ideal in which we invest all of our hopes.
If she is confirmed, I hope that Ms. Power does indeed become that type of ambassador, but I have not been satisfied by the evidence thus far of this administration’s willingness to be serious about tackling these issues over the last four and a half years to ensure that every American dollar going to the U.N. actually advances America’s interests.
I think that Congress needs to play a more active role in forcing this very much needed change to occur.
I’d like to spend a few minutes highlighting legislation that I recently introduced to this effect. I’m very pleased to have as cosponsors Senators Cornyn, Risch and Flake, and I hope more of my colleagues will join this effort.
I’m not the first person to raise concerns about the effectiveness and utility of the United Nations.
Former Senator John Danforth, who was serving as our ambassador to the U.N. in 2004 when the U.N. General Assembly couldn’t even pass a resolution condemning human rights violations in Sudan said at the time, "One wonders about the utility of the General Assembly on days like this. One wonders if there can't be a clear and direct statement on matters of basic principle, why have this building? What is it all about?"
Anyone who has followed the U.N. closely, especially in recent years as the Security Council has failed to respond to the crisis in Syria, as more than 100,000 Syrians have died, as hundreds of thousands more have been forced out of their homes, across borders, straining all of Syria’s neighbors, leaving behind a failing state that is becoming a safe haven for global jihadists should rightly ask the same question as Senator Danforth.
In the midst of this crisis, the U.N. has even been unable to achieve consensus on the issue of whether to allow international humanitarian organizations to provide cross-border support to tens of thousands of Syrians stuck in camps facing frequent shelling and attacks from the Assad regime.
Just as we’re troubled by this inability to tackle the world’s toughest problems, we should also be angry about the fact that for decades, more human rights criticism at the U.N. has been directed against Israel than actual human rights violators and that U.N. agencies and organizations have employed blatant anti-Semites.
Or that for decades, recipients of U.S. foreign aid have only voted with the United States at the U.N. less than one third of the time and such support does not currently factor into U.S. decisions about who receives our foreign assistance.
Or the fact that the world’s most notorious tyrants and human rights violators are allowed to serve on the Human Rights Council rather than being condemned by it.
Or by the fraud and mismanagement that has pervaded the U.N.’s peacekeeping operations, including abuses and exploitation of the very people that peacekeepers were sent to protect.
Or by the Security Council resolutions on Iran and North Korea that U.N. member states willfully violate, as we recently saw with the Panamanian capture of a ship transferring weapons from Cuba to North Korea.
Or by the proliferation of mandates that have clouded the organization’s mission and effectiveness.
The list goes on and on.
Let me be clear – I am not here today to argue that we don’t need the United Nations. Ideally we would have a United Nations where the nations of the world would come together and seriously deal with North Korea, Iran, radical Islam and human rights. But the U.N. we have right now is not capable of any of this. It has basically become a forum for nations whose interests are directly opposed to ours, to block our efforts and use the United Nations as cover.
That is how North Korea and Iran continue to evade sanctions. That is how Israel’s enemies continue their efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. That is how Assad continues to massacre his own people with weapons built in and supplied by Russia.
More than six decades after its creation, we still hope for a U.N. with resolve, a U.N. that acts with effectiveness and purpose. Sadly, the U.N.'s persistent ethics and accountability problems are limiting its role. Until the organization addresses these important issues, it will continue to be the ineffective and often irrelevant.
Americans should care about this more than any other people, because we shoulder the primary fiscal burden of the U.N.’s budget. And our patience is not limitless. We don’t believe in continuing to throw money at programs and projects that fail to accomplish their objectives.
My hope with the legislation I filed is to provide an incentive for the United Nations, the President and our Ambassador in New York to modernize that international body along a spirit of transparency, respect for basic human freedoms, and effective nonproliferation. This legislation would also attempt to address the anti-Semitic attitudes that have become so prevalent in certain corners of the U.N. and seriously diminish the credibility of the entire U.N. system.
At the core of these reforms is an effort to instill a sense of transparency and competition at the U.N. by its adoption of a budgetary model that relies mostly on voluntary contributions.
This legislation would also strengthen the international standing of human rights by reforming the U.N. Human Rights Council in a way that would deny membership to nations under U.N. sanctions, designated by our Department of State as States Sponsors of Terrorism, or failing to take measures to combat and end the despicable practice of human trafficking. Other provisions seek meaningful reforms at the U.N. Relief and Work Agency that provides assistance to Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.
This legislation is needed because the structure and bureaucratic culture of the organization often makes it impossible or, at best, downright difficult to achieve meaningful reforms.
In closing, for more than six decades now, the United Nations has served as an important multilateral forum to address peace and security issues throughout the world. But it has never been, and it is not now a substitute for strong American leadership. When America fails to lead, the world becomes more dangerous.
The United Nations is badly broken. And I hope we will work to force meaningful transparency and accountability reforms for the U.N. But so far, this administration does not seem very interested in doing so. And therefore, until we begin to take some positive steps in that direction, I will not be able to support Obama administration nominees who have not committed to significant reform of the U.N.
Ms. Power has failed to make such a commitment. And therefore, that is why I am voting today against her nomination to be our next Ambassador to the United Nations.