US Holocaust museum pulls study of Obama's Syria policy after criticism

Critics said the study absolved the Obama administration of criticism that it did too little to prevent genocide in Syria.

September 7, 2017 13:29
2 minute read.
Barack Obama gives a statement at the White House

Barack Obama gives a statement at the White House. (photo credit: LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS)


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The US Holocaust Memorial Museum withdrew from its website a study that critics said absolved the Obama administration of criticism that it did too little to prevent genocide in Syria.

The Tablet online magazine, which obtained portions of the study, reported Tuesday that it was met with “shock and harsh criticism by prominent Jewish communal leaders and thinkers.”

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On Tuesday evening, a statement by the museum said it had decided to remove the study from its website “as we evaluate [the] feedback.”

The paper, which was to be released officially on September 11, argued that “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.”

Critics of Obama have argued that in his effort to prevent America from a quagmire in Syria, he did too little to arrest the carnage in a civil war in which 400,000 people have died and Syria has been accused of using sarin gas, chlorine gas and barrel bombs. Many point to his decision in September 2013 to postpone a military strike against the Syrian government in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack and instead to seek authorization from Congress.

By contrast, the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide used computational modeling and game theory methods, as well as interviews with experts and policymakers, to determine that US involvement in the wake of the 2013 chemical weapons attack in Ghouta would not have reduced atrocities in the country and may have contributed to them, according to Tablet.

Abraham Foxman, the director of the Center of the Study of Antisemitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the History, told Tablet that the museum leadership must have determined it “made a misstep” in undertaking the report, pointing out that the genocide has not yet ended and that such a judgment is beyond the museum’s mandate.

Foxman, who noted that he served three times on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, also said, “I believe that it’s appropriate — indeed, it’s imperative — for the museum to deal with questions of genocide in contemporary current events.”

A message on the museum’s website said Tuesday: “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.”

Longstanding critics of Obama’s foreign policy noted on social media that at the end of his term, he appointed to the Holocaust museum board a slew of White House staffers, including some involved in the Syria decisions, and questioned whether this influenced the study. Tablet pointed out that the study was launched before the appointments.

Some of the board members who had formerly worked for the Obama administration said they were not aware of details of the report until its completion. Holocaust museum board members are not typically involved in its day-to-day activities.

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