Did Obama do a Durban Dance?

During CPAC, I noted the surprising decision by Barack Obama to pull out of the UN’s Durban II conference on racism.  The move raised a few eyebrows on Bloggers Row, and while we all approved of it, we wondered what Obama may have done to mitigate it.  According to Anne Bayefsky at Forbes, the Obama administration sent mixed signals that amounted to “double-dealing”:

Barack Obama just added double-dealing to his foreign policy repertoire. On Friday, administration officials led many Jewish leaders to believe that the president had decided to boycott the United Nation’s “anti-racism” conference known as Durban II. At the same time, however, human rights organizations were being led to believe that the administration was not pulling out and was looking for a way to “re-engage.” …

After sowing confusion over the phone lines, the State Department chose late Friday night to put the real deal in print. Their release reads: “the current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable,” and “the United States will not … participate in a conference based on this text,” but we will “re-engage if a document that meets [our] criteria becomes the basis for deliberations.” A new version must be: “shorter,” “not reaffirm in toto the flawed 2001 Durban Declaration,” “not single out any one country or conflict,” and “not embrace the troubling concept of “defamation of religion.”

Bayefsky believes this offer for re-engagement allows too much room for mischief, especially in giving wiggle room on the 2001 Durban Declaration.  The US rejected that for more than just one or two good reasons.  Durban was an attempt to smear the Israelis by making them akin to the old South African regime, who oppressed people by race internally for more than a century.  The Israelis got Gaza and the West Bank only after getting invaded twice through those territories by other Arab nations, who now refuse to take the territories back.  The Israelis have never annexed those lands, and in fact officially consider the two-state solution as their goal in the peace process — if only Hamas and Fatah would stop terrorist activities and the Palestinians would elect someone other than the lunatics currently in charge, especially in Gaza.

The double-dealing accusation comes from the heavy spin the White House put on the decision with key players:

On one phone line with Assistant Secretary of State Karen Stewart were Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.N. Foundation, the UNA-USA Association and the Arab American Institute, among others. On the other line with National Security Council member Samantha Power were Jewish organizations. The dangerous message was that an Arab advocacy group does human rights, while Jewish organizations do Jews.

Frankly, this doesn’t surprise me, and I doubt it was much different in the Bush administrations or the Reagan and Clinton terms, either.  Given Power’s incendiary comments about Israel and her preferred solution to the conflict — a Euro-US occupation of Israel — I’m a little surprised she handled the calls she did.  Wasn’t she the one that wanted to throw the Jewish lobby under the bus in the US?  At any rate, all diplomacy amounts to spin, and the Obama administration did what all nations do: custom-make versions of the story for various audiences while keeping their options open.

The true story here is that Obama blew it with Durban II.  As Bayefsky notes, the US could have helped kill the conference by remaining opposed to it.  Some European nations would have joined our boycott and exposed Durban II as the anti-Israel effort that it is, rather than a high-minded attempt to end racism.  Instead, Obama’s decision to participate forced them to do the same, and now his exit leaves them holding the bag.  It’s Amateur Hour at Foggy Bottom, and both our allies and our enemies know it.

Incredibly, Obama wants to compound this by joining the Human Rights Council at the UN, a panel comprising more than 40 nations that have focused on nothing but Israel in all of its iterations.  Just as with Durban and Durban II, noted human-rights campaigners like Iran and China await the legitimacy of the US to provide cover for their attacks on Israel and the West.  Apparently, the amateurs at Foggy Bottom still haven’t learned any lessons from this embarrassment.