The Obama Doctine: Inaction

The Atrocities Prevention Board did nothing to prevent atrocities in Syria.

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Dr. Lamont Colucci is an associate professor of politics at Ripon College, recent Fulbright scholar to the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, and author of The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape our Present and Future, among other books. You can find out more at lamontcolucci.com.

Seven days before the attacks on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush issued NSPD–9, which called on the secretary of defense to plan for military operations against the Taliban and al–Qaida. It had three objectives: to eliminate the al–Qaida network, to use all elements of national power to do so – diplomatic, military, economic, intelligence, information and law enforcement – and to eliminate the sanctuaries of al–Qaida and related terrorist networks if other efforts failed.

In contrast, on August 11, 2011 President Obama issued PSD–10 creating the Atrocities Prevention Board, stating that, "Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States." The actual establishment of the board did not occur until April, 2012. There has been much made of the fact that the board has come into existence at a time when the death toll in Syria has climbed above 70,000 and, as reported by this author in February, chemical weapons have been used against the Syrian people.

The Atrocities Prevention Board includes representatives from multiple agencies, including State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Joint Chiefs and is chaired by the National Security Staff Director of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. They will monitor mass atrocities and genocide and will work to create "targeted sanctions."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

Supporters like Madeline Albright and William Cohen have stated that the president's "initiative should not be viewed as a new doctrine of humanitarian intervention or global adventurism, as some might suggest. Rather, it is a clear eyed and pragmatic attempt to expand our government's toolbox to meet the challenges posed by tyrants who pose an extraordinary threat to their civilian populations." There also has been talk of issuing bans on visas for those involved in such atrocities. 

Critics abound on all fronts. Renowned realist Stephen M. Walt writes that the board will do nothing to stop atrocities and "this new initiative suffers from the smug self–congratulation that is hallmark of the modern American Empire." Sen. John McCain, R–Ariz., has joined the chorus asking why the board was set up when these exact atrocities are already occurring in Syria.   

Reports indicate that the board is already looking at Syria, Congo and Sudan. It seems very keen on using words such as "monitoring," "data collection," and "analysis." There is a raft of language that discusses the interagency process, committee creation and cross government communication. 

But how is this prevention? The president has called for the United States to have a comprehensive approach to these atrocities. However, the key word is prevention, not bureaucracy or a place to wail and gnash teeth over the inhumanity of behavior.

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Does Obama Need More Information on Chemical Weapons in Syria?]

The Atrocities Prevention Board seems to be the perfect example of the Obama doctrine in inaction. A committee is set up to study and monitor the worst evil known to mankind; it will then make recommendations about collecting information so that we can cease trade with countries that we don't trade with, and stop visas from being issued to people who won't come here. They will then cry rivers of tears for those who are suffering and promise that the new board will engage in "lessons learned" exercises for the future.

Is there anything worse in the pantheon of appeasement and moral cowardice than to justify both with bureaucracy and technocratic language? How will future historians view us when our reaction to the events in Syria is the creation of a working group?

In 1945, Justice of the Supreme Court Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg trials stated, "The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated." This is the statement that should become policy, this is the cause to which the nation was founded upon, and this is the moral compass that must guide our future. The dead will not allow us a free passage to hypocrisy.

  • Read Evan Moore: Obama Must Force Assad From Power in Syria
  • Read Brian Jenkins: Syria May Provide a Blueprint for Action in Iran, North Korea
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