Commentary Magazine


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Time to End the Atrocities Prevention Board

It has been less than four months since President Barack Obama announced the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, sometimes called the “Genocide Prevention Board.” Speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Obama announced:

Now we’re doing something more.  We’re making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities. So I created the first-ever White House position dedicated to this task. It’s why I created a new Atrocities Prevention Board, to bring together senior officials from across our government to focus on this critical mission.

The idea that it takes a new bureaucracy to identify genocide, as a White House fact sheet explained, was always silly; the private media does just fine reporting on atrocities. If anything, the creation of new government bodies at taxpayer expense simply suggests the inefficiency of previous government agencies, none of which ever seem to fade away.

A new interagency board will never be able to enact policies against the will of the White House, the State Department, or Congress. Syria is a case in point: Atrocities have only accelerated since the board’s inauguration, yet the White House remains uninterested in much more than symbolic action. Nothing is more corrosive to the credibility of the United States than the gap between rhetoric and action which now exists. Nor will the board ever inform Obama that his policies–for example, talking to the Taliban–will almost certainly lead to renewal of atrocities in Afghanistan.

Obama rewarded Samantha Power with the chairmanship of the Atrocities Prevention Board. Power, a Pulitzer prize winner who has focused on genocide since her days as a freelance reporter in Bosnia, provided the intellectual push for the board, and she has made a career out of the often mutually exclusive lament that the United States does too little to prevent genocide and that the United States should work more through the United Nations in resolving conflict.

By chairing such an impotent board, however, Power now has the ability to make real change, although not as she had initially planned. If she remains the head of a meaningless board powerless to prevent genocide, she effectively exposes herself as a partisan hack, willing to put her affinity for Obama and her love for the title above principle. However, if Power refuses the temptation to posture rather than prevent atrocity, she could show herself to be a woman of principle and, in so doing, stop giving cover to those who, against the backdrop of mass murder, would turn and look away.