Commentary Magazine


Obama Sends Message on Technology Human Rights Abuse

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.

As Ben Smith tweeted, “an ‘Atrocities Prevention Board’ sounds like a parody of what one would do about atrocities.” The board is supposed to inform senior administration officials about potential genocides and mass human rights abuses, as if some might accidentally slip by without notice. It’s also tasked with using “new tools” to develop “mechanisms and structures” to deal with atrocities, whatever that means.

The president also announced a new measure to prevent Iran and Syria from using technology to commit human rights abuses, a laudable move. But addressing atrocities often requires making tough choices that are not widely-supported, and the administration has often failed on this front. If they were serious about preventing human rights abuses, they would be putting far more pressure for reform on countries like China and Russia, they wouldn’t be abandoning the women in Afghanistan, and most critically, they would be vigorously supporting Israeli action against Iran, instead of trying to pressure the government to hold off on a strike behind the scenes. They would support a policy of regime change in Iran, the only outcome that there can be. The atrocities that America looks back on with guilt and shame for not having acted sooner are ones that required tough and potentially unpopular decisions at the time.

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