According to news reports President Obama will not be attending the deliberations... At first blush this might seem to be somewhat of a surprise given the stakes. And what are the stakes? Well, the answer to the question regarding the importance of the Cancun conference depends on one's point of view, and opinions range along a continuum:
- At one end of the continuum, at the very least it is important because decisions might be made there that could have profound effects on both the world and U.S. economies, and,
- At the other end of the continuum it is thought to potentially be crucial to the future existence of mankind as we know it.
This blogger would argue 'no', that it is better that the President not attend, that it would be preferable to have lower level representation that can work to achieve more limited agreements... And why should this be? Because in this blogger's estimation that would be a superior outcome, and it is preferable to achieve a "more limited", albeit fairly concrete agreement, as opposed to the sweeping "historic" agreements a la Obama, that are more hyperbole-filled than "real."
This blogger's thesis is that the achievement of these "historic" agreements by President Obama has been more due to the artful crafting and composition of documents that the various parties can "agree" to without their having to actually change their positions substantively... That in all the cases cited, President Obama did not somehow convince the various parties to come to a common understanding by the force of his intellect and/or argument, but by devising agreements that contained sufficient ambiguity that the various parties could "agree" to them.
With that in mind let us examine the record highlighted above, starting with Copenhagen 2009.
- During the meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao the U.S. "... had given some transparency language to them..." to discuss. A follow-up question revealed that this was handed over at the meeting between Obama and Wen, a meeting at the end of the last day of the conference! Apparently the earlier arrival of Secretary of State Clinton had not result in any preparation for the President's arrival... Why? It's not as if China's issues with "transparency" suddenly showed up when the President arrived!
- OK, so the above was concerning but not a huge deal. However, as the narrative by the "senior administration official" goes on, it looks like the most powerful man on the planet flew all the way to Copenhagen for an issue that might concern the fate of the entire planet, and did this all by the seat of his pants. "The President also says to staff, we should meet in a group of three with Lula of Brazil, Singh of India, and Zuma of South Africa..." Unfortunately it looked like this meeting would not occur, because "... Brazil tells us that they don't know if they can come because they want the Indians to come..." and "... we were told Singh was at the airport..." So, if this narrative was true, it would seem that the President didn't have a meeting already scheduled with these worthies! That he suddenly got the bright idea that this might be a good idea... And that it looked like it wasn't going to be possible because some of them were already leaving the conference!
- Then, apparently, as they were going to the follow-up meeting with Wen they found him with the three (Brazil's Lula, India's Singh, and South Africa's Zuma)!! Hmm. so perhaps credit for saving the conference should have gone to Wen and not to Obama, since according to the "senior administration official" it was Wen that managed to pull together the group after the U.S, had failed to do so!
This blogger was not sure what to make of this entire narrative. Even if you believed every word, did the unnamed "senior administration official" somehow feel that the story reflected positively on the President? Presumably the intent of this briefing was to portray the President as having pulled a rabbit out of his hat; however, this blogger would argue that it was more evidence of ineptness than of brilliant maneuvering! And if it's not an exact rendering of what happened, why would they have come up with such a silly story?
Next, let us move back in time to an event that was universally proclaimed as a success, the 2010 NPT Review Conference earlier this year...
Regarding the timetable for disarmament, the nuclear "haves' managed to make sure that no actual date was set for disarmament, agreeing instead to work towards that goal and to report back on their progress. Regarding the MEZFWMD, the agreed-upon final statement "... calls for holding a conference in 2012 "to be attended by all states of the Middle East, leading to the establishment¨ of such a zone. It also mentions ¨the importance of Israel's accession to the treaty and the placement of all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards...¨
- The Department of State web page recapping the NPT Review Conference final document, while providing information on the main provisions made no mention of the MEZHWMD at all.
- As reported, administration officials characterized the conference to be held in 2012 as "a modest step", and said that the U.S. would not pressure any government (read Israel) to attend the conference.
- The President's statement on the final document then included: "We strongly oppose efforts to single out Israel, and will oppose actions that jeopardize Israel's national security." U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones characterized this as a "gratuitous" attempt to single out Israel, and indicated that it is the U.S. view "... that a comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations are essential precursors for its establishment..." i.e. full peace in the Middle East before a MEZHWMD!
Next, let us briefly mention the New START agreement.
Next, on to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1887.
Next, on to Honduras and the "Tegucigalpa/San Jose" agreement.
However, reading between the headlines and perusing a myriad of articles hailing the agreement, it was clear that things didn't seem to add up! Yes, there was an article that covered the formation of a national unity government, and it even provided a deadline (November 5th) for this to happen; however, Zelaya was only to be reinstated upon approval by the country's parliament, and no deadline was provided for that article of the agreement. Given that a large majority of the Honduran Congress had supported his removal and that the de facto government leaders continued to insist that he would never return (for example, Marcia Facusse de Villeda, an aide to Micheletti said, "Zelaya won’t be restored.”), it did not seem likely that Zelaya would be reinstated. Given the 180-degree difference between the expectations of the two sides of who had signed this "historic agreement," it seemed that nothing good would be forthcoming...
Fast forward a week and, sure enough, it began to fall apart - the Honduran Congress was not called out of recess to reinstate Zelaya, and the de facto government had named a unity government, claiming that Zelaya's side had not set forth its members. For his part, Zelaya issued a statement withdrawing from the “Tegucigalpa/San Jose Agreement,” and pre-declared the November 29th election as a fraud - "... we announce that we will completely ignore this electoral process and the results of the aforementioned evils, elections under a dictatorship are a fraud for the people..."
So, it was back to the status quo ante - the de facto government went along with the new elections and chose a new President, while Zelaya's side rejected the entire process as a sham. The U.S. government, which had midwifed the "historic agreement" backed the newly-elected President, to all intents and purposes acquiescing in Zelaya's ouster...
NPT Review Conference:
NPT on Debategraph
Two Cheers for Multilateralism
Progress on Nukes at the UN?
Iran narrowly wins UN nuclear battle
NPT RevCon ends with a consensus Final Document
A Surprising Consensus on Nuclear Nonproliferation
Understanding the 2010 NPT Review Conference
Post-NPT RevCon Review of the Goal for a NWFZ in the Middle East …And why this goal is so important
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Final Document (U.S. State Dept.)
NPT RevCon Produces Consensus Final Document
NPT Rev-Con achieves consensus document
ACA Welcomes NPT Review Consensus
Obama hails 'balanced' non-proliferation accord
Nuke session approves early steps to disarm
U.N. Nuke Meet Ends with Good Intentions and Empty Promises
NPT Review Adopts Outcome Document at Last Moment
Success of NPT Review Conference great news
Commitment to WMD-free Middle East in doubt as NPT conference ends
In NPT, US sacrifices its own policy goals to serve as Israel’s lawyer
Jones: NPT review a "gratuitous" attack on Israel
A Middle East Zone Free of Weapons OF Mass Destruction
Yossi Melman: U.S. sacrificed Israel for success of NPT conference
New START agreement:
Some Preliminary Thoughts on the New START agreement
The Start of a New Obama Narrative
New U.S.-Russian Arms Control Deal Set for Signing
Questions Abound as "New START" Agreement is Completed
US-Russia nuclear pact to be Obama victory
Getting A New START On The Road To Nuclear Arms Reductions
U.S., Russia agree to nuclear arms control treaty
UN Security Council adopts resolution on nuclear safeguards
White House Fact Sheet on UN Security Council Resolution 1887
Text of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1887
India strongly reacts to UNSC resolution on NPT.
U.S.: UN resolution on NPT not directed against India
Ouch! French President Sarkozy slams ‘naive’ Obama for living in 'virtual world’ on Iran
Obama's Nuclear Victory
Building a world without nukes
IAEA urges Israel to allow nuclear inspection
Honduras and the "Tegucigalpa/San Jose" agreement:
Pact to restore ousted Honduran leader in Congress (Oct 30th)
Breakthrough in Honduras (Oct 30th)
Honduran Congress Leader Says Accord Won’t Restore Zelaya (Oct 30th)
Honduras deal a boost for US influence in Latin America (Oct 30th)
Fin de crisis apoya política multilateral de EUA (Oct 30th)
Credit where credit is due (Oct 31st)
Troubles for a Deal — and for Obama — in Honduras (Nov 6th)
Pres. Zelaya: Elections Under a Dictatorship are a Fraud, Micheletti’s Failure to Comply (Nov 7th)