Zal’s Tips for Being An Effective UN Ambassador

Moments before Susan Rice’s confirmation hearing to become the next U.S. Ambassador to the UN (which we’ll live-blogging shortly, as we did so vigorously with Secretary of State-designate Clinton’s) begins, it seems appropriate to reflect on some of current Ambassador Khalilzad’s pragmatic points from his “exit interview” at the New America Foundation yesterday.

  • “Reasonable” resolutions do wonders. Khalilzad revealed a simple strategy for reversing the Bolton-esque 14-1 votes, featuring a ham-handed U.S. veto, that made the United States look like a not very eager partner. If a country like Libya tried to introduce an inflammatory resolution on Israel-Palestine, Khalilzad related, instead of fulminating against it, he would take up the challenge and work to transform the piece of Israel-bashing into a reasonable resolution, including language, for instance, condemning terrorist attacks. Libya, beholden to its own domestic politics, could not then agree to its own resolution, and it would become the isolated 1 in the 14-1 vote, thus withdrawing its resolution.
  • Employ an “Adjective-Maker-in-Chief.” This is the term that moderator Steve Clemons used to underscore Khalilzad’s comment on the importance of coming to Security Council meetings prepared with a, er, flexible vocabulary. If one word doesn’t work, try another. A thesaurus can be a handy tool for diplomacy.
  • Listen! Clemons reported that all the other UN ambassadors with whom he spoke expressed pleasant surprise — and sometimes downright shock — that Khalilzad would call upon them in their offices. Once there, Khalilzad stressed, he actually listened to what his counterparts had to say. Style and tone, in turns out, matter a lot up at Turtle Bay.
  • And finally, Khalilzad admitted: always have a resignation letter tucked away in a drawer somewhere, just in case.