Commentary Magazine


Topic: genocide

The Holocaust and History’s Many Lessons

Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

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Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

But first, one quibble. Pfeffer writes that the West would of course have noticed Netanyahu’s comment about Arab voters being bussed to the polls, and should have expected backlash. But in this lies a crucial point: it’s understandable to have been irked by the comment, but look at the double standard. When Iranian leaders make extreme comments the Obama administration dismisses them as intended for a domestic political audience, nothing more. The press isn’t exactly blameless here either. In fact, it should be central to the discussion.

When we talk about historical analogies and the Nazis, we often stress the comparison between regimes more than the comparison between reactions to the regimes by gullible Westerners. It’s not that we ignore the latter–we don’t–it’s just that we tend to focus on the evil party asserting its genocidal intent.

But what lessons have Westerners learned from their own history? Here, it’s instructive to glance at Andrew Nagorski’s book Hitlerland. One of the stories he tells is of Chicago Daily News reporter Edgar Mowrer, who was reporting on Germany in the 1930s and even wrote an early book on the emergence of the Hitler era. Nagorski writes:

Yet even Mowrer wasn’t quiet sure what Hitler represented–and what to expect if he took power. “Did he believe all that he said?” he asked. “The question is inapplicable to this sort of personality. Subjectively Adolf Hitler was, in my opinion, entirely sincere even in his self-contradictions. For his is a humorless mind that simply excludes the need for consistency that might distress more intellectual types. To an actor the truth is anything that lies in its effect: if it makes the right impression it is true.” …

As for the true intentions of his anti-Semitic campaign, Mowrer sounded alarmed in some moments but uncertain in others. “A suspicion arises that Adolf Hitler himself accepted anti-Semitism with his characteristic mixture of emotionalism and political cunning,” he wrote. “Many doubted if he really desired pogroms.”

Well, we know how that story ends. The point is, proper historical reflection takes into account not only whether and how the current Iranian regime is animated by common principles with Nazi Germany but also whether we can really say we’ve learned the proper lessons from the past if we’re still dismissing unhinged rhetoric as play-acting for a domestic crowd. (We also should ask if play-acting for a domestic crowd is, in light of history, really as harmless as we sometimes make it out to be.)

Nonetheless, Pfeffer’s larger point about how the Jews have been welcomed in certain corners of the West–America being the shining example–is well taken. So is his point about America’s staunch pro-Israel policies.

Yet there is a difference between treating victims a certain way and preventing others from becoming victims. This is where, I think, many critics are coming from.

Pfeffer’s column has the bad luck to be timed just as the release of hundreds of pages of newly declassified documents, reported first by Colum Lynch yesterday at Foreign Policy, draws new attention to Western inaction during the Rwandan genocide. It’s a long story, and it doesn’t necessarily change the underlying dynamics all that much, though it does shift some more of the weight of the Clinton administration’s bystander role to Richard Clarke and Susan Rice.

Rice’s inclusion there should not be shocking. She is, after all, the official once quoted as cautioning Bill Clinton against recognizing the genocide for what it was because of the effect that could have on the Democratic Party’s electoral fortunes in the congressional midterms. Here’s Lynch introducing the revelation:

But the recently declassified documents — which include more than 200 pages of internal memos and handwritten notes from Rice and other key White House players — provide a far more granular account of how the White House sought to limit U.N. action. They fill a major gap in the historical record, providing the most detailed chronicle to date of policy instructions and actions taken by White House staffers, particularly Clarke and Rice, who appear to have exercised greater influence over U.S. policy on Rwanda than the White House’s Africa hands.

Just as relevant here is the sentence that comes next: “The National Security Archive and the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide obtained the documents during a two-and-a-half-year effort to amass long-secret records of internal deliberations by the United States, the U.N., and other foreign governments.”

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was a driving force in getting these documents released. That’s no coincidence. And Rwanda’s far from the only case of Western inaction. Not every mass killing amounts to genocide, but we’re seeing campaigns of ethnic violence and ethnic cleansing across the Middle East and Africa. The most recent example is the Yazidis of Iraq, which ISIS tried to exterminate. But the general treatment of Christians–Copts in Egypt, various Christian groups in Nigeria–suggests we are, unfortunately, far from seeing the end of such campaigns.

So has the West learned its lessons from the Holocaust? The honest answer is: some of them. It would be grossly unfair to claim they’ve learned nothing. But it would be wishful thinking to suggest they’ve learned everything.

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How Will Turkey Compensate Armenians?

I have written here previously arguing that historians, rather than the pope or other politicians, should be the ultimate arbiters about what is and is not genocide, whether it comes to the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Anfal, the slaughter in Darfur, or any other mass murder. It might seem quibbling, but the basic difference between genocide and mass murder is whether the state implemented a master plan to exterminate a people everywhere they existed (genocide), in certain locales (ethnic cleansing) or whether mass murder occurred against the backdrop of war. Granted, such a distinction doesn’t help the victims nor alleviate their suffering.

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I have written here previously arguing that historians, rather than the pope or other politicians, should be the ultimate arbiters about what is and is not genocide, whether it comes to the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Anfal, the slaughter in Darfur, or any other mass murder. It might seem quibbling, but the basic difference between genocide and mass murder is whether the state implemented a master plan to exterminate a people everywhere they existed (genocide), in certain locales (ethnic cleansing) or whether mass murder occurred against the backdrop of war. Granted, such a distinction doesn’t help the victims nor alleviate their suffering.

That said, with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide to be marked in just over a week, momentum is growing across the globe to confirm the World War I-era deaths of more than one million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman state and Kurdish irregulars. One of the strongest motivations for political intervention in the historical debate has been the argument that the Armenian Genocide inspired Adolf Hitler’s desire to commit genocide. On this issue, Hannibal Travis’s recent article in Middle East Quarterly is a must-read.

In recent days, the Pope has called the events of a century ago “genocide,” as has the European parliament. And, on cue, the bombastic, over-the-top Turkish government reaction has only come off looking defensive and silly. Here, for example, is the Turkish prime minister looking silly accusing the Pope of being part of some vast anti-Turkish conspiracy, and here is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan doing likewise.

Peeling away Turkish bluster, there are a few reasons why the Turkish government is so dead set against recognizing Armenian genocide. Some Turkish historians genuinely believe that the Ottomans are falsely accused. They argue that the testimony of Western diplomats is colored by World War I anti-Ottoman fervor. Those who blame conspiracies to single out Turkey point to the ethnic cleansing of Turks and Muslims from the eastern Balkans in the years immediately before the murders of Armenians. But two wrongs don’t make a right. While there should certainly be more recognition of the ethnic or sectarian cleansing that occurred in the Balkans, that does not mean that atrocities perpetrated against Armenians should be ignored by historians.

The major reason why so many Turks object to recognition of the Armenian genocide is they fear the next step will be Armenian demands for restitution. Perhaps as Armenians mark the 100th anniversary, it is worthwhile moving this debate into the open: If the international community forms a consensus that the Ottomans conducted genocide against the Armenians—and that consensus may already exist—and if the Turks then acknowledge that Turkey was born upon the ashes of an Ottoman genocide, then perhaps the Armenian government and perhaps major Armenian Diaspora organizations should outline what compensation, if any, Armenians will seek from the government of Turkey. Does the government of Armenia, for example, expect territorial compensation—those lands in eastern Anatolia from which Ottomans and Kurdish irregulars cleansed Armenians? Will Armenia itself be the custodian of any monetary compensation, or is there a mechanism to divide that money among descendants of survivors? What historical proof will be required to determine which Armenians today had family members killed in the genocide, versus those who did not? As one debate appears to be ending, at least on the political level, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that another one must soon begin.

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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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