BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
If Pres. Obama ends up being a one-term President, he has no one to blame but himself. While it is true that he inherited the Bush administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a devastated economy, he has not only failed to lead the nation out of its quagmire, but in some respects has made matters even worse.
Perhaps Pres. Obama’s biggest failure has been dashing the hopes and expectations of the American public. While most politicians routinely make promises they do not keep, voters trusted this particular President’s assurances that “Yes, We Can” bring about “Change.”
Regrettably, within weeks of taking office, Pres. Obama proved that he is just another unprincipled politician by going back on his solemn promise of acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and playing immoral word games for which he had chided his predecessors. Since then, he has not kept his word on hundreds of other issues, thereby undermining his credibility and causing his popularity to plummet like a lead balloon.
Having lost trust in Pres. Obama, most Americans no longer take him seriously even when he attempts to do the right thing. Last week, he issued an important “Presidential Directive” on the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide, mandating the creation of an “Interagency Atrocities Prevention Board” within 120 days. This new Board is to be composed of top U.S. government officials, including the Vice President, the Secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury, and Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the National Security Advisor, and Directors of the CIA, National Security Agency, and Defense Intelligence Agency, among others.
In his Directive, Pres. Obama claimed that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” He went on to assert with a straight face that “history has taught us that our pursuit of a world where states do not systematically slaughter civilians will not come to fruition without concerted and coordinated effort.” Pres. Obama should be reminded of the wise words of philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” How could U.S. officials take any credible action to prevent future genocides when they refuse to acknowledge past genocides?
For this new super agency on “Mass Atrocities” to have any credibility, Pres. Obama should stop playing political games with genocide, recognize previous “Mass Atrocities” and draw appropriate lessons from them. Otherwise, his new Directive becomes just another clever ploy to boost his poor rating.
Actually, Pres. Obama came quite close to saying the right thing in his Directive, as he was citing historical examples of mass atrocities and genocide: “Sixty six years since the Holocaust and 17 years after Rwanda, the United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding interagency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide.” Curiously, Pres. Obama started his historical narrative with the Holocaust and avoided any mention of the Armenian Genocide — the first genocide of the 20th Century! If the United States is serious about fighting mass atrocities and genocide, it should start by refusing to deny and distort historical facts in order to accommodate modern-day political considerations.
In his Directive, Pres. Obama suggested that the proposed interagency board consider the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen. This is a serious mistake because both of these cabinet members had sent letters to Congress opposing the adoption of a resolution on the Armenian Genocide. How could these genocide denialists serve as appropriate guides to prevent future genocides? These two former officials have lost all moral standing to make any pronouncements on the subject of genocide.
Pres. Obama also issued last week a presidential proclamation banning the entry into the United States of individuals who have participated in “widespread or systematic violence” against civilians, and committed “war crimes, crimes against humanity or other serious violations of human rights.”
Here are my humble suggestions regarding the two foregoing presidential initiatives:
1. Since descendants of genocide victims have a unique sensitivity regarding acts of mass violence, Pres. Obama should appoint one representative of each of those victimized groups to the “Interagency Atrocities Prevention Board,” at least in an advisory capacity; and
2. To prevent new genocides, Pres. Obama should ban the entry into the United States of not only those who have participated in gross human rights violations, but also those who are genocide deniers, because denial is the final step of the genocidal process, and a license to commit future genocides.