President Obama has been accused of being too accommodating and too willing to please in foreign affairs. But he was quite direct in announcing over the weekend that the United States, "with regret," would boycott the U.N. conference on racism in Geneva this week.
". . . our participation would have involved putting our imprimatur on something we just don’t believe," the president said.
Like the U.N. commission on human rights, the most active players in the conference on racism seem to be the nations whose records least bear scrutiny.
Since an earlier conference on racism in 2001, which the U.S. ended up walking out of, some of the participants have tried to engineer language that conflates Zionism with racism and thus, by extension, making Israelis racist.
The U.S., not surprisingly, finds this totally unacceptable as it did attempts by Muslim nations to effectively outlaw criticism of Islam, the prophet Muhammad — the Danish cartoons still rankle — and Sharia law. And the tone of the conference is that racism and intolerance are largely the problem of the developed West.
The U.S. is not alone in boycotting the conference. Eight other nations — Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and New Zealand — did too, meaning whatever the final document the conference produces will fall considerably short of authoritative.
Obama’s decision to boycott the gathering was not only right but prescient.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, got the conference off to a calamitous start by claiming that the West used the Holocaust as a pretext for oppressing the Palestinian people, the Israel was a "most cruel and repressive regime" and that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was the result of a Zionist conspiracy.
That prompted 24 other countries to walk out, including some 40 diplomats from the European Union. Even the U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon, generally reluctant to criticize a member nation, called Ahmadinejad’s remarks "a totally unacceptable situation."
Some of the nations that walked out, like Britain and France, suggested they would return but it will be to a considerably diminished and tarnished conference.
Obama may have regretted the U.S. boycott when he announced it over the weekend but it’s unlikely that he does now.