By GIL TROY & TEVI TROY, New York Post, 8-4-09
THE Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor. Past recipients include John Wayne, Norman Rockwell and Vaclav Havel. This year, one of the 16 recipients President Obama selected (along with such worthies as Sen. Edward Kennedy and the late Jack Kemp) is former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.
Robinson’s views are well out of the American foreign-policy mainstream. Rep. Peter King (R-LI) says, “She is definitely from the school of moral equivalency which somehow invariably comes down on the side against vibrant democracies such as Israel and the United States.”
Despite her noble commitment to human rights, Robinson has become a symbol of all that’s wrong in the human-rights community and the United Nations — of the tendency to appease dictatorships, rationalize terrorism and bash the West.
She is perhaps best known for presiding over the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa — which targeted the West, especially Israel, while overlooking racism in Arab countries. The conference was so biased the United States and Israel boycotted it.
In the tense months before convening in Durban, Robinson failed to listen to pleas from Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), among others, to stop Arab dictators from hijacking an anti-racism conference to advance their anti-Zionist agenda. Afterward, she declared the disaster a success, even after she herself belatedly condemned the vicious anti-Semitism coursing through the streets of Durban at a parallel forum of nongovernmental agencies.
Robinson has criticized US foreign policy throughout her career. Since 9/11, she has blasted the United States for losing the “moral high ground” — as if she’s more focussed on trying to win the “minds and hearts” of unrepentant terrorists than on the dilemmas that democracies face in fighting terror.
She also blasted the United States for objecting to the new UN Human Rights Council in 2006 — even though America was rightly protesting the power the forum granted to human-rights-abusing dictatorships such as Libya and Sudan.
The Obama administration had to be aware of all this before the president decided to honor her. The White House has careful procedures for selecting winners of awards like this, and for running these names by key White House offices to avoid trouble.
This process of “clearing” the 16 Medal of Freedom recipients surely allowed officials such as Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Adviser David Axelrod, both savvy political operatives, to sign off or object before the list became final.
If Obama’s aides missed the fact that Robinson would be controversial, then the incompetence of the Cabinet-vetting process continues. If the staff — and the president himself — were aware of her record but chose to go ahead anyway, we have to ask: What message is Obama sending by awarding her America’s highest civilian honor?
Medal of Freedom selections shouldn’t cause the president political trouble. If President Obama believed he could honor Robinson without harming himself politically, he’s taking for granted the votes of both American Jews and more traditionally hawkish moderate Democrats.
Worse, it seems Obama doesn’t mind celebrating a symbol of Western weakness and appeasement of anti-Semitism at a time when the world’s dictators and terrorists are deciding what to think of him.
Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and author of “Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.”
Tevi Troy, a former senior White House aide and deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, is a visiting senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.