Belmont Club

Nuance

Anne Bayefsky at Forbes isn’t sure whether the Obama Administration is participating in Durban II, because despite some indications that it isn’t, there are some indications that it is. Confused? Read on:

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.”

Although the US is ostensibly walking away from the conference, it left the door open to “re-engagement” provided certain forms were observed.  Bayefsky argues that the American conditions don’t even mention “many other troubling provisions still on Durban II’s negotiating table.”

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.”

In fact, she alleges that even if the administration were to skip Durban II, it would simply mask a more substantive concession: participation in the UN Human Rights Council.

The administration’s decision to slip in the Human Rights Council as a consolation prize for Durban enthusiasts is an attempt to downplay a major move. State Department officials intimated that they intend not only to observe but to run for a seat–subject to the “likelihood of successful elections.” Council members and human rights gurus, like China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are sure to welcome the instant legitimacy provided by U.S. participation. The Council–controlled by the Organization of the Islamic Conference–has adopted more condemnations of Israel than all other 191 U.N. states combined, while terminating human rights investigations on the likes of Iran, Cuba and Belarus. Obama’s move denies the opportunity to leverage the prospect of American membership to insist on reform.

The word ‘nuance’ comes from Middle French nuer to make shades of color, from nue cloud, from Latin nubes; perhaps akin to Welsh nudd mist. It means a “sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value)” But its effect in this case is to keep everyone guessing; and it enables the administration, for the time being, to come down on both sides of the issue. Is America participating in Durban II? The short answer is ‘it depends’; it depends on what participating means and whether you take the large or the small context.