Commentary Magazine


Topic: genocide

Don’t Call It a Comeback: Interventionism Was Hiding in Plain Sight

A spate of stories in today’s news offers a convincing answer to those asking how a war-weary nation–as we are told we are, again and again–is suddenly on the verge of multifront military intervention. The first story is that the U.S. is committing troops to the fight to contain Ebola in West Africa. This seems a fairly sensible, better-safe-than-sorry approach to an epidemic spreading rapidly.

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A spate of stories in today’s news offers a convincing answer to those asking how a war-weary nation–as we are told we are, again and again–is suddenly on the verge of multifront military intervention. The first story is that the U.S. is committing troops to the fight to contain Ebola in West Africa. This seems a fairly sensible, better-safe-than-sorry approach to an epidemic spreading rapidly.

As the New York Times reports, the troops will help with the construction of medical treatment facilities, distribution of aid, and will take the reins in coordinating a regional response. The administration expects to deploy as many as 3,000 to Africa in the effort. Some health experts are calling for an even greater response from the U.S., saying the focus on Liberia is not enough; Sierra Leone and Guinea are also in dire need.

If the crisis worsens, so will disorder, border chaos, and perhaps even a refugee crisis of sorts, not to mention the need to protect all these treatment centers and medical storage facilities. This is not an overnight mission, nor a relatively quiet one like sending forces to help track down African warlords, as we have also been doing.

So that’s one kind of military intervention–to fight a disease epidemic across the ocean. The other major story today was on the administration’s shaky attempts to wrangle support for military intervention in Iraq and Syria to combat ISIS.

The plan is to use airpower to hit ISIS from above. But there are a couple of ways this could escalate. First is the possibility that since the U.S. is not coordinating attacks in Syria with Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Assad’s forces could target U.S. aircraft. As the AP reported, “The United States would retaliate against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air defenses if he were to go after American planes launching airstrikes in his country, senior Obama administration officials said Monday.”

Another complication is the fact that no one seems to believe airstrikes alone would be enough to accomplish the mission–though the mission itself isn’t quite clear enough for some of the members of Congress on the fence about the plan. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked about mission creep and said success may, in fact, require boots on the ground in Iraq. “My view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that will prove true,” Dempsey said. “But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States, then I of course would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.”

We should also not forget that on his recent trip to Estonia attempting to counter Russian aggression, “Obama also announced the US would send more air force units and aircraft to the Baltics, and called Estonia’s Amari air base an ideal location to base those forces.” The U.S. has since repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to protecting NATO allies in the region, but it hasn’t stopped Russia from sending veiled threats it may test that promise.

So to sum up: we’re sending troops to one, and possibly three or more, African countries to deal with Ebola; we’re sending the Air Force to the Baltics, with promises to confront Russia with more troops if need be; and we’re contemplating the possibility of sending troops to Iraq while striking at one, possibly two sides in a three-way Syrian civil war while arming the third side, which may or may not have agreed to a truce with one of the sides we’re bombing.

How is it that the American public can be war-weary and also quite clearly interventionist at the same time? The answer is: piece by piece. Americans are tired, in an abstract way, of “policing” the world and fighting open-ended military campaigns. But the individual issues here scramble that message.

According to Rasmussen, half the country is worried about Ebola. According to the Washington Post/ABC poll, most are concerned about ISIS, and thus by clear majorities support airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria. That same Post/ABC poll finds more than 40 percent think Obama has been “too cautious” on countering Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. That might be because, according to Pew, Americans see Russia as the country’s top looming threat.

In other words, when Americans’ retrenchment instincts clash with real-world crises, their concern for the latter tends to win out. And that’s also why we suddenly see a diverse coalition of hawks, at least on the right. Those who prefer less intervention may be learning from the Obama administration’s bungled retreat from the world stage that there is such a thing as a power vacuum, and nature does indeed abhor it.

A stable world order promoted by American power can in many cases make later military intervention unnecessary. Intervention is sometimes the most rational response from noninterventionists.

And as the Ted Cruz-IDC dustup has shown, Americans tend to be a diverse country full of people who strongly believe the United States has a responsibility to protect various at-risk populations around the globe. Here, for example, is the closing sentence of Ross Douthat’s column on the controversy from Sunday:

The fact that he was widely lauded says a lot about why, if 2,000 years of Christian history in the Middle East ends in blood and ash and exile, the American right no less than the left and center will deserve a share of responsibility for that fate.

This is, I find, a strong argument for intervention. It’s also an argument, however unintended, for intervention that never materialized in Darfur, and perhaps the consideration of such in Burma, where the Rohingya Muslims might very well be the target of such a campaign. And it’s an argument for intervention in a broad array of crises. It is, in fact, a neat summation of Samantha Power’s foreign-policy philosophy. Douthat sounds about as much a realist here as John McCain is.

And Douthat’s not wrong about the need to save the besieged Christians of the Middle East! That’s the point. There are times when the United States is treaty-bound to intervene on behalf of allies. And there are times when the United States must intervene out of strategic interest. And there are times when the United States seems obligated to intervene out of sheer moral responsibility.

It all adds up to an active, interventionist American role in the world. And the support for that foreign policy goes on periodic hiatus, but it always returns.

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Atrocities Prevention Board, One Year Later

President Obama announced the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board a year ago today. Less than four months later, my colleague Michael Rubin pointed out the futility of the board, noting that it would “never be able to enact policies against the will of the White House, the State Department, or Congress.” Over the past year, the board has been conspicuously invisible, and not just on Syria. Robert Skloot and Samuel Totten lament the on-going atrocities committed by the Islamist regime in Sudan, and note that:

The Atrocities Prevention Board seems to have accomplished little to nothing over the past year. It has issued no pronouncements in regard to any of the ongoing humanitarian crises in the world — not about the appalling situation in Sudan, in Congo, in Syria and so on. Members of the board have also refused to respond to correspondence from dozens of scholars of genocide studies and human rights activists (ourselves included) calling on the board to urge Obama to insist that the United Nations support actions that would protect vulnerable and suffering populations. Our letters have gone unanswered and unacknowledged.

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President Obama announced the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board a year ago today. Less than four months later, my colleague Michael Rubin pointed out the futility of the board, noting that it would “never be able to enact policies against the will of the White House, the State Department, or Congress.” Over the past year, the board has been conspicuously invisible, and not just on Syria. Robert Skloot and Samuel Totten lament the on-going atrocities committed by the Islamist regime in Sudan, and note that:

The Atrocities Prevention Board seems to have accomplished little to nothing over the past year. It has issued no pronouncements in regard to any of the ongoing humanitarian crises in the world — not about the appalling situation in Sudan, in Congo, in Syria and so on. Members of the board have also refused to respond to correspondence from dozens of scholars of genocide studies and human rights activists (ourselves included) calling on the board to urge Obama to insist that the United Nations support actions that would protect vulnerable and suffering populations. Our letters have gone unanswered and unacknowledged.

As Michael noted, one of the weaknesses of the left’s approach to human rights, illustrated both by Samantha Power, the head of the board, and Professors Skloot and Totten, is their reliance on the United Nations. And there is something piquant about a board that must, if it is true to its mission, call for more U.S. interventions, being brought into existence by a president who has made it perfectly clear that he wants to intervene less. Max Boot recalls that Power has criticized U.S. officials for tending to oppose both genocide in the abstract and American involvement in particular cases. I’d add that, before Iraq and Obama came along, Power made a living on her explicit claim that the problem was lack of political will to intervene, and that ways should be found to raise the political cost to leaders who refuse to do so. When the board was announced, critics feared it would be a bully pulpit for intervention. There seems no risk of that today. Far from raising Obama’s costs, the board is in practice enabling his leadership from behind.

A look at the White House “Fact Sheet” of a year ago shows just how easy it is to put out bold-sounding statements that are undermined by events. According to this “comprehensive strategy,” the U.S. is supposed to deny visas to human rights abusers: it took Congressional leadership to pass the Magnitsky Act, and the administration’s implementation of its visa restrictions has been half-hearted at best. The strategy was supposed to “increase the ability of the United States Government to ‘surge’ specialized expertise”: as Elliott Abrams notes in his recent review of David Rohde’s Beyond War, the Afghan surge was flawed from the start by Obama’s insistence that it last only 18 months, which led to the predictable waste of U.S. foreign aid. And, of course, there was its predictable emphasis on strengthening the U.N.’s capacity, which, after the U.N.’s catastrophic, cholera-inducing intervention in Haiti, is a bad joke.

It’s about as likely that the U.S. will develop the ability to predict atrocities before they happen as it is that we’ll develop the ability to predict events like the Arab Spring before they happen. It’s all too easy to make a list of places where bad things are more likely to happen: any place where government is either really strong or really weak is a contender to head the list. Nor is there any secret about where the world’s atrocities are happening today: Syria, North Korea, Iran, the DRC, and Sudan, among others. The usual suspects.

The problem is not that we lack the administrative tools to recognize this. It’s not even that this administration has in practice been more interested in cozying up to Russia, downplaying radical Islamism, and kicking the can down the road in Syria and Iran, though all of that will feature heavily in the work of a future Samantha Power. It’s that these are, in Power’s own words, problems from hell, and you don’t address problems from hell with a nice, well-mannered, invisible inter-agency board.

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Arab Filmmakers to Celebrate Genocide

While Jews around the world commemorate the inability of an ancient villain to make good on his threat to wipe out the Jews of Persia with the holiday of Purim, some in the Arab world are preparing to celebrate one such effort that did not fail. In the seventh century, the large Jewish community in the Arabian Peninsula fell victim to the influence of the newborn Muslim movement. The result was that after a futile effort to defend themselves, the three Jewish tribes of the region–the Banu Nadir, the Banu Qainuqa and the Banu Qurayza–were all forced into exile after the battle of Khaiber. The Prophet Mohammed’s followers mercilessly slaughtered the bulk of the latter tribe. This sad chapter of history is little known in the West even among Jews but it is familiar to Muslims who, even today, use the phrase “Khaiber” as a battle cry to rally opposition to Israel and as an indication of their desired fate for the Jews who live in the Middle East today.

But as the Anti-Defamation League’s blog reports, a Qatar-based production company is slated to start filming next month of a multi-millionaire dollar television series focused on the events of Khaiber. The author of the script is Yusri Al-Jindy, whose work has previously depicted Jews and Israelis as bloodthirsty villains.

Arab countries, includ­ing Morocco, Egypt and Jordan, and will apparently feature several well-known Arab actors. Echo Media Qatar has reportedly started build­ing sets with struc­tures similar to the ones inhabited by Jews 1,400 years ago.

A report on Al Jazeera in Ara­bic yes­ter­day described “Khaiber” as “the most important feature of the Islamic-Jewish fight. Muslims always raise its name in their ral­lies against Israel because it constitutes a memory of a harsh defeat for the Jews who lived in the Arabian Peninsula during the time of prophet.”

The story of “Khaiber,” accord­ing to most Islamic sources, ends with the exe­cu­tion of thou­sands of Jews, includ­ing women and chil­dren. Protesters at anti-Israel ral­lies around the world, including the U.S., often evoke this battle in their chants to galvanize supporters.

According to Al Jazeera, Al-Jindy said he wrote the script because “the Zionist movement is currently passing through a turning point as a result of the changes in the Arab world.”

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While Jews around the world commemorate the inability of an ancient villain to make good on his threat to wipe out the Jews of Persia with the holiday of Purim, some in the Arab world are preparing to celebrate one such effort that did not fail. In the seventh century, the large Jewish community in the Arabian Peninsula fell victim to the influence of the newborn Muslim movement. The result was that after a futile effort to defend themselves, the three Jewish tribes of the region–the Banu Nadir, the Banu Qainuqa and the Banu Qurayza–were all forced into exile after the battle of Khaiber. The Prophet Mohammed’s followers mercilessly slaughtered the bulk of the latter tribe. This sad chapter of history is little known in the West even among Jews but it is familiar to Muslims who, even today, use the phrase “Khaiber” as a battle cry to rally opposition to Israel and as an indication of their desired fate for the Jews who live in the Middle East today.

But as the Anti-Defamation League’s blog reports, a Qatar-based production company is slated to start filming next month of a multi-millionaire dollar television series focused on the events of Khaiber. The author of the script is Yusri Al-Jindy, whose work has previously depicted Jews and Israelis as bloodthirsty villains.

Arab countries, includ­ing Morocco, Egypt and Jordan, and will apparently feature several well-known Arab actors. Echo Media Qatar has reportedly started build­ing sets with struc­tures similar to the ones inhabited by Jews 1,400 years ago.

A report on Al Jazeera in Ara­bic yes­ter­day described “Khaiber” as “the most important feature of the Islamic-Jewish fight. Muslims always raise its name in their ral­lies against Israel because it constitutes a memory of a harsh defeat for the Jews who lived in the Arabian Peninsula during the time of prophet.”

The story of “Khaiber,” accord­ing to most Islamic sources, ends with the exe­cu­tion of thou­sands of Jews, includ­ing women and chil­dren. Protesters at anti-Israel ral­lies around the world, including the U.S., often evoke this battle in their chants to galvanize supporters.

According to Al Jazeera, Al-Jindy said he wrote the script because “the Zionist movement is currently passing through a turning point as a result of the changes in the Arab world.”

The filming of “Khaiber” is just the latest instance of major TV productions in the Arab world (which are often broadcast in prime time during Ramadan) being used to promote anti-Semitic themes. Egyptian TV’s “Knight Without a Horse” blockbuster centered on the forged “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” canard. Echo Media Qatar has previously produced a film blaming the Jews for the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

But the “Khaiber” film is especially significant because it blends ancient hatreds with contemporary hopes for a similar destruction of the Jews. The goal of such a film is to dehumanize the Jewish people and to delegitimize their rights, especially to self-defense.

The genocide of the Jews of Arabia is a historical fact that speaks to the intolerance of early Islam that need not inform contemporary relations between Jews and Muslims. But the glorification of the slaughter of Arabian Jews more than 1,300 years ago is a not-so-subtle signal that justifies the efforts of those who intend a similar fate for the 6 million Jews of Israel. The embrace of these ideas by a popular Muslim audience is an ominous sign that the sea change in Arab culture that will be required to create a genuine peace in the Middle East is nowhere in sight.

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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.

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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.

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