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.
Last Friday, in a village near the Syrian town of Houla, a horrifying massacre unfolded. After government forces attacked an opposition rally, they shelled the town and then sent in the shabiha, the notorious Alawite-dominated, pro-government militia that carries out the same role in Syria as Serbian goon squads did during the Bosnian civil war. The shabiha went door to door, killing people either by shooting them or slitting their throats. At least 108 people were killed, among them 49 children and 34 women.
Given the terrible nature of these atrocities, the response from what is known as the international community is almost comically ineffectual. The UN Security Council voted to condemn the massacre–but not to do anything about it. Now UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan has traveled to Syria to try to “salvage” his ineffectual peace plan. He thunders from his high perch:
“I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process.”
Lee Smith has already noted at the Weekly Standard’s site the irony of the Obama administration creating the Atrocities Prevention Board at the very moment the administration is choosing to do nothing substantive to stop the atrocities being perpetrated in Syria.
There is another layer of irony, as noted by Michael Dobbs at Foreign Policy, namely that the driving force behind the Atrocities Prevention Board, NSC staffer Samantha Power, the author of an important history of American responses to genocide, had noted the propensity of U.S. officials to oppose “genocide in the abstract while simultaneously opposing American involvement in the moment.” It is hard to better that as a description of the U.S. response, or lack thereof, to the massacres occurring in Syria.
The U.S. has responded with empty calls for Bashar al-Assad’s resignation and tough sanctions which have done much damage to the Syrian economy but have not stopped the killing or shaken the regime, which continues to be supported by Iran, Russia, and other unsavory actors. The latest attempt to save the Syrian people has come courtesy of the UN, which is introducing monitors to Syria. Not surprisingly, the Syrian regime has not been cowed by the presence of these unarmed observers; Syrian security forces have cracked down hard in cities such as Homs where the people have dared to protest the regime during the fleeting visits of the UN observers.
As Jonathan wrote, President Obama unveiled his new Atrocity Prevention Board at the Holocaust Museum this morning. The inception of the board was actually announced in August, but it’s convening for the first time tomorrow, which tells you all you need to know about how efficient this new bureaucratic creation will probably be:
The White House’s new Atrocities Prevention Board will meet for the first time Monday, as President Barack Obama outlines steps aimed at ensuring the U.S. has the “mechanisms and structures” to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities and war crimes, an administration official said Sunday. …
“This unprecedented direction from the president, and the development of a comprehensive strategy, sends a clear message that we are committed to combating atrocities, an old threat that regularly takes grim and modern new forms,” said Samantha Power, the National Security Council’s senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, who will serve as chairman of the Atrocities Prevention Board. The panel’s creation was announced in August.