(photo credit: AP)
On their first visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, many visitors are surprised to discover that a significant part of the display is dedicated to events much more up to date than the Second World War. For the last three years, the Museum has been drawing attention not only to the tragedy of the Jewish people but also to the near-genocide currently taking place in Darfur.
This is part of the museum's mandate not only to serve as a reminder of the millions killed by Germany in the Holocaust but also to warn the world whenever a people or nation is in imminent danger of mass murder.
On Wednesday, President George W. Bush visited the museum and while there announced that if the Sudanese government continues to aid the Janjaweed gangs that have murdered 200,000 people in Darfur and displaced another two million, they will be slapped by further economic sanctions. Should these measures fail to achieve their objective, he promised, "We will also consider other options."
Bush's initiative, which puts the US at the front line of yet another bloody and potentially intractable foreign conflict, is breathtaking.
Four years after Baghdad fell to the US Army, as coalition forces are still bogged down in a war of attrition in the badlands of Afghanistan, Iran continues to supply terrorists throughout the region while openly defying UN sanctions, and back in Washington, a hostile Congress is trying to limit Bush's power to pursue the elusive victory in Iraq, the president still found the time to put the crosshairs on another group of bad guys.
Mere rhetoric? Is Bush trying to deflect attention from the setbacks by conjuring up new bogeymen? His speech at least suggests otherwise. Addressing the Holocaust survivors in the audience, Bush said, "You who bear the tattoos of death camps hear the leader of Iran declare that the Holocaust is a 'myth.' You who have found refuge in a Jewish homeland know that tyrants and terrorists have vowed to wipe it from the map. And you who have survived evil know that the only way to defeat it is to look it in the face, and not back down."
But will there really be no backing down? Even if Bush, in the last quarter of his term, manages to go out fighting, how long will his successor stay the course?
In this context, what was the purpose of Defense Secretary Robert Gates's visit here, the first visit by a US defense secretary in eight years?
One Israeli newspaper raised the possibility that Gates is here to prepare the key Middle East players for an American pullout that could take place earlier than expected. However, Gates, at least in public, is singing a different tune. In Cairo, he said Iraq "is a responsibility we will not abandon, a trust we will not break."
Whatever assurances Gates has brought with him, he reserved his press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv for taking aim at Syria.
The failures and miscalculations, the quagmire in Iraq, the obduracy of the "insurgents," the pusillanimity of allies and the loss of congressional support, none of it seems to have deflected Bush from his course.
Everything we hear from Washington points to the conclusion that if Israel and the US are going to foil Iran's genocidal plans, there is an 18 month window of opportunity: the time left to Bush in the Oval Office.