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Explaining the Significance of the Mary Robinson Nomination

Campaigning in Virginia on Thursday, Barack Obama said he did not mind the responsibility of cleaning up the health-care “mess”—but he does not want “the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking.” He wants them to “get out of the way.” John Hinderaker and Glenn Reynolds both titled their posts on Obama’s remarks “Shut Up, He Explained.”

James Besser has brought this high concept to the discussion of Obama’s nomination of Mary Robinson for the Presidential Medal of Honor. Besser ponders the “correct response” for Jewish leaders who think honoring Robinson legitimizes her anti-Israel views and the anti-Semitic Durban conference in which she was a key player. Here is his answer:

I’m not sure (I’m a journalist, not a high-paid Jewish executive), but I suspect groups that genuinely object to the decision to award the medal to Robinson should simply express disappointment, explain the reasons—and shut up.

I would be glad to shut up if the president would clean up the mess. But I suspect it is not going to be cleaned up—and not simply because withdrawing the nomination or criticizing the nominee would be embarrassing. The mess may have been the reason for the nomination in the first place, in a way that has not yet been fully appreciated. Let me explain.

It is highly unlikely that the nomination was the result of poor vetting, which involves nominating someone who appears appropriate and then discovering he has a tax problem, for example. But if you know about the tax problem and nominate him anyway—because you think his services are necessary to solve a more important problem—the issue is not one of vetting but of judgment, as well as what you are trying to achieve with the nomination.

Ed Lasky has marshaled a lot of evidence indicating that the person responsible for selecting and/or vetting Robinson was the president’s close friend and White House adviser Samantha Power, who would likely have been familiar with Robinson’s background. Robinson’s record at Durban did not, in any event, need a background check; it was in the foreground of her public record (see Tom Lantos’s lengthy Durban report). It was not a hidden tax problem but a known quality deemed not disqualifying given the larger problem to be solved by the nomination.

What was that problem? In an important 7,345-word post (with a 1,700-word follow-up), Catherine Fitzpatrick—who was at Durban I and watched Robinson’s performance there, and who is both her defender and her critic—says the nomination was “an effort to deflect criticism of the United States coming furiously from some leftist groups for the U.S. decision not to participate in the follow-up conference in Durban in April.” She concludes that “at the end of the day, the Obama Administration chose Mary Robinson because they felt she was one of their own.”

Fitzpatrick’s post is a revealing picture of the swamp into which the international human-rights movement has descended, typified by the UN Human Rights Council that George W. Bush shunned because of its membership and its anti-Israel agenda, and which Barack Obama joined with no real hope of changing—a course of action Obama affirmed (and wanted to be seen as affirming) by giving Robinson the highest civilian honor in the United States.

The administration is thus not likely to explain the Robinson nomination by blaming poor vetting, because the vetting was not poor. The president is not likely to criticize the views of the nominee, because the criticism would jeopardize the purpose of the nomination. There will likely be no explanation or criticism at all. On the contrary, the administration will be pleased to remain silent as its media allies tell Jewish leaders the appropriate reaction is to express “disappointment”—and shut up.

The significance of the Robinson nomination is that—in the end—it is not, at least not exclusively, a Jewish issue. The canary’s distress is never only about the canary. The nomination is another signpost along the well-paved road Obama’s foreign policy is traveling, another marker showing its increasingly clear direction.


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