Holocaust Museum retracts report justifying Obama's 'bystanderism' on Syria

Former US president was frequently criticised for lack of action after Assad's chemical attacks


Former officials in the Obama administration have been accused of “hijacking” the moral authority of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum after the institution retracted a study it commissioned that appeared to try and justify lack of action by the former President to stop the genocide in Syria.

The study, which was due to be officially launched at an event on September 11 but had already been published on the museum’s website, reportedly argued that “a variety of factors…made it very difficult from the beginning for the US government to take effective action to prevent atrocities in Syria”.

The study was overseen by Cameron Hudson, a former US intelligence official in the Obama administration. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum also has a number of former members of President Obama’s national security council on its board of trustees, and as members of staff.

As reported by Tablet magazine, the study sought to prove via computational modelling and game theory that if the Obama administration had carried out air strikes on Syria and funded anti-Assad rebels after the Syrian regime’s poison gas attacks in August 2013, it would have added to atrocities in the country instead of alleviating them.

One of the most enduring criticisms of Barack Obama’s tenure as President was his failure to follow through on a warning to the Assad regime in Syria regarding the use of chemical and biological weapons. In the summer of 2012, President Obama issued a “red line” warning to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator, saying that the use of chemical or biological weapons would have “enormous consequences”. But when the Assad regime used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians the next year, the Obama administration’s reaction was muted.

Leon Wieseltier, the former literary editor of the New Republic and current fellow at the Brookings Institute, told Tablet that “releasing an allegedly scientific study that justifies bystanderism” had brought “shame on the Holocaust museum".

Mr Wieseltier, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, added: “If I had the time I would gin up a parody version of this that will give us the computational-modelling algorithmic counterfactual analysis of John J McCloy’s decision not to bomb the Auschwitz ovens in 1944. I’m sure we could concoct the f***ing algorithms for that, too.”

As well as continuing to attack his own people with poison gas, the Assad regime has operated a series of prison camps responsible for the murder of up to 60,000 people.

Tablet also reported that while the museum has worked closely in the past with members of the anti-Assad Syrian community in Washington to bring the atrocities of the regime to light, their input was not requested for this report.

The report is no longer available on the museum’s website and has been replaced by a statement explaining the decision to remove it.

The statement reads: "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."

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