Some people working with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum had a desire to whitewash former President Barack Obama for his inaction vis-à-vis the conflict in Syria. They colored a new study offered by the museum so it read, “A variety of factors, which were more or less fixed, made it very difficult from the beginning for the US government to take effective action to prevent atrocities in Syria, even compared with other challenging policy contexts.”
The study was to be introduced publicly on September 11; it was supervised by former Obama NSC and intelligence officer Cameron Hudson, who now serves as director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.
Tablet Magazine reports:
Using computational modeling and game theory methods, as well as interviews with experts and policymakers, the report asserted that greater support for the anti-Assad rebels and U.S. strikes on the Assad regime after the August 2013 Ghouta chemical weapons attack would not have reduced atrocities in the country, and might conceivably have contributed to them.
The unusual step of condoning the Obama Administration for its refusal to act in the face of large-scale mass murder is a slap in the face to anyone who understands that the point of any Holocaust museum is to fight against genocide around the world.
Leon Wieseltier, literary critic and fellow at the Brookings Institution, snapped, “The first thing I have to say is: Shame on the Holocaust Museum.” He blasted the museum for “releasing an allegedly scientific study that justifies bystanderism,” adding, “If I had the time I would gin up a parody version of this that will give us the computational-modeling algorithmic counterfactual analysis of John J McCloy’s decision not to bomb the Auschwitz ovens in 1944. I’m sure we could concoct the fucking algorithms for that, too.”
Since the outbreak of civil war early 2011, the Syrian dictator has repeatedly attacked civilians with poison gas, maintaining a network of prison camps where as many as 60,000 people have been tortured, murdered, and disappeared, with their bodies dumped into crematoria and mass graves.
Abraham Foxman, the director of the Center of the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the History, asserted:
I assume the leadership understands that it made a misstep. I served three times on the Holocaust Commission. The institution is very dear to my heart. And I believe that it’s appropriate—indeed, it’s imperative—for the Museum to deal with questions of genocide in contemporary current events. But in this case, several things are happening that are problematic. First, the genocide isn’t over. In the case of Rwanda and Bosnia, for example, the genocides were over and the Museum was able to offer its assessment in hindsight. Two, more broadly I just don’t think it’s appropriate for the Museum to issue this kind of judgment—that’s beyond its mandate. This should be a place where one meets to discuss, to debate, to question, to challenge: Could more have been done? Where? How? Not to issue judgment, especially not in this politicized atmosphere.
There are a number of Obama appointees who work with the Museum; former deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, whose lying and chicanery helped the Iran nuclear deal to be implemented, was appointed to the museum’s Memorial Council at the end of Obama’s tenure; Obama NSC alumni Grant Harris, Anna Cave, and Daniel Benjamin worked for Obama at the NSC.
Shlomo Bolts, a policy and advocacy officer with the Syrian American Council, told Armin Rosen of Tablet, “If the reports are saying that nothing could have been done for Syria, this is something that every Syrian American I know considers grossly incorrect. There was a lot that could have been done and that can still be done to stop the mass atrocities in Syria. There are still thousands of civilians in Syria who are being tortured in Assad’s jails or fear imminent attacks by Assad forces and there is much that can be done to help them.”
Rabbi Shmuley Yanklowitz, co-founder of Jews for Human Rights in Syria, echoed:
When the presidential commission on the Holocaust decided the Museum should also include a committee on conscience, the idea was that they should not merely preserve Holocaust memory but be a force to helping prevent future genocides and mass atrocities. To merely say no intervention could have made a difference strikes me as a strange conclusion if I understand it correctly. ... I don’t think we have the right to choose inaction when we know the reality on the ground.”
By Tuesday night, the Museum offered the following message to those wishing to peruse the study:
Last week the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide released a research study that examined several decision points during the Syrian conflict. Since its release, a number of people with whom we have worked closely on Syria since the conflict’s outbreak have expressed concerns with the study. The Museum has decided to remove the study from its website as we evaluate this feedback.