President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at the United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum in Washington on Monday. Here’s what I would like to hear
“Nineteen years ago this week, my predecessor, president Bill Clinton,
stood on this very spot and recalled that even after the American government
knew that the Holocaust was taking place, ‘doors to liberty were shut’ and ‘rail
lines to the [death] camps within miles of militarily significant targets were
left undisturbed.’ President Clinton was deeply troubled by our nation’s
‘complicity’ in the tragedy, and I am confident he would agree that we must
learn from the mistakes that were made then.
“One major mistake was our
government’s hesitancy to acknowledge, loudly and clearly, that the Jews were
being singled out for mass annihilation. During my years in the United States
Senate, I said the US should publicly recognize that Turkey perpetrated genocide
against the Armenians. Presidents, of course, face a unique array of pressures
and considerations, and during my first years in office, I chose to use the
Armenian term ‘Meds Yeghem,’ rather than ‘genocide,’ out of sensitivity to
Turkey’s objections. But failing to acknowledge genocide paves the way
for future genocides. I cannot be a party to that. From now on, I will not
hesitate to state clearly that what the Armenians suffered was
“Another major mistake during the Holocaust was our
government’s reluctance to take even minimal steps to rescue Jewish
During the 2008 presidential campaign, I pledged that when it
came to the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, America would not allow mass
murder to take place on my watch. ‘There must be real pressure placed on the
Sudanese government,’ I said.
“But as president, I have often preferred
to heed the advice of my more cautious advisers on this subject.
such as imposing a no-fly zone over Sudan or forcefully challenging Sudan’s arms
suppliers – Russia and China – were set aside in order to avoid unpleasant
confrontations with Moscow and Beijing.
“We opted to refrain from trying
to bring about the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been
indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in the Darfur
genocide. We held back from criticizing countries that hosted visits by
Bashir, even when those countries were major recipients of US
“Critics warned that if Bashir remained free, he would continue his
murderous ways. We did not listen.
“We should have. Today, the people of
the Nuba mountains are paying a steep price. In that region at the border
between Sudan and South Sudan, Bashir’s forces are again victimizing innocent
men, women, and children.
“So today, the gloves come off. Today, we say
to the world: We want regime change in Sudan. We want Omar al-Bashir behind
bars. Our special forces around the globe will be employed, if necessary,
to bring him to justice. And those who remember how American commandos
apprehended the Achille Lauro hijackers, or Manuel Noriega – not to mention how
they dealt with Osama bin Laden – know we are serious when we say to the Butcher
of Darfur: You can run, but you can’t hide.
“An American ally, Israel, is
today threatened with genocide. Iran’s rulers have vowed to wipe Israel off the
map, and they seem determined to build the weapons of mass destruction needed to
achieve that goal. I have urged the Israelis to refrain from taking military
action against Iranian nuclear facilities so long is there is a chance of
stopping Iran’s nuclear development through pressure, sanctions, and
negotiations. Israel is concerned about the sanctions process dragging on so
long that it enables the Iranians to complete construction of atomic
weapons. Israel’s concerns are valid.
“And so today, I want to
make it clear to Tehran that the round of talks which is now under way will be
the last round. These talks must succeed within 30 days, or we will
conclude that Iran was never is not serious about a negotiated solution. And we
and our allies will act accordingly.
“I want to conclude my remarks by
announcing a symbolic step that I will be taking, today, to reaffirm America’s
commitment to preventing genocide. Jonathan Pollard has been incarcerated
for the past 27 years for providing Israel with classified data that, among
other things, revealed attempts by certain extremist regimes to develop weapons
with which to destroy Israel. I am in no way condoning Mr. Pollard’s actions
when I acknowledge that he was motivated by a desire to prevent a second
Holocaust. As a small symbol of my administration’s own commitment to preventing
another genocidal assault on the Jewish people, I have today granted clemency to
“Speaking out against genocide, interrupting mass murder,
apprehending the perpetrators, preventing the development of weapons of genocide
– these must be the hallmarks of American policy around the world in the 21st
century.”The writer is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute
for Holocaust Studies and coauthor, with Prof. Sonja Schoepf Wentling, of the
Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the “Jewish Vote” and
Bipartisan Support for Israel. This article originally appeared on
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