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Obama’s New “Atrocity Prevention Board”: Reasons for Skepticism

By coleen rowley - Posted on 24 April 2012

An e-mail from the “Peace Alliance” breathlessly announced:

BIG NEWS: President Obama Unveils Peacebuilding Board. This Monday, April 23rd, the peacebuilding community will mark a historic milestone. President Obama will speak at the US Holocaust Museum on Monday to unveil the Atrocity Prevention Board, a high-level board within the National Security Council, which will greatly enhance our country’s capacity to make peacebuilding a priority.

Citizens for Global Solutions similarly gushed about the “historic development”. But don’t pop the champagne corks just yet. And don’t toss away your “honk for peace” signs! Especially those peacemakers who didn’t support the “humanitarian war” on Libya or who don’t believe in neo-conservative ends-justify-the means concocted utilitarianism. (Torture only saves lives when TV fiction writers get to concoct their happy endings of Jack Bauer defusing the ticking time bomb. Similarly, propagandists get to make it up when they claim that NATO’s bombing of Libya prevented another Rwandan-type massacre. Removing bad guys like Saddam Hussein, Qadhafi, Assad or Ahmadinejad to achieve regime change does require some hyperbole but little factual justification.) Those of us who don’t want to encourage US military intervention in Syria or Iran should do a little more fact-checking before leaving the “peacebuilding” to Obama’s war machine.

A staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor more soberly asked: “Will Obama's new atrocities board lead to more Libya-style operations?” There’s good reason to wonder since the bullet points in the “Fact Sheet: A Comprehensive Strategy and New Tools to Prevent and Respond to Atrocities” boast of White House success in bringing “pressure to bear on the abusive Qadhafi and Asad regimes,…a no fly zone, comprehensive sanctions against the Qadhafi regime … and leadership of a successful international military effort to protect civilians in Libya.”

Not surprisingly, it turns out the two main female architects of NATO’s “humanitarian” bombing of Libya, Samantha Power and Susan Rice, will also lead this new “Atrocity Prevention Board.” Power will chair the APB and there are rumors that Ambassador Rice will take over for Hillary Clinton as the next Secretary of State.

The next clue that the new Board could actually be more about war building than peace building came in Elie Wiesel’s introduction of Obama at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, in which the Holocaust survivor, took the opportunity to gratuitously inject the well-worn neoconservative position that leaving Syria’s Assad and Iran’s Ahmadinejad in power is akin, for Israel’s purposes, to the “evil” of Hitler:

“If so, how is it that Assad is still in power?” said Wiesel. “How is it that the Holocaust’s No. 1 denier, Ahmadinejad, is still a president? He who threatens to use nuclear weapons — to use nuclear weapons — to destroy the Jewish state. Have we not learned? We must. We must know that when evil has power, it is almost too late.” “Mr. President, we are here in this place of memory,” he continued. “Israel cannot not remember. And because it remembers, it must be strong, just to defend its own survival and its own destiny.”

Shame on Wiesel for using the moment to war-monger but he obviously feels safe in doing so since he’s a “Nobel Laureate”. (I was recently told by the Secretary of Nobel Peace Prize Committee Geir Lundestad that, once awarded, a Nobel “peace” prize will never be rescinded, even if the recipient goes on to launch dozens of wars.)

A third clue in Obama’s announcement lay in his clever undermining of the old world order wherein nation states and their governments were theoretically entitled under international law to equal treatment, and some respect and sovereignty. However, that was before hundreds of American military bases, air carriers, spy satellites and weapon drones were in place all over the world to police and project the power of the world’s only remaining super power. So Obama’s declaration that "Sovereignty Is Never A License To Slaughter Your Own People" works to win the adulation of groups like the Peace Alliance and Citizens for Global Solutions by pitting “slaughter” against these foreign countries’ (obviously flimsy) remaining claims to sovereignty.

Ignored, however, in this “humanitarianism” formulation (based on American exceptionalism) is that the people of many countries around the world might also have reason to fear that the only remaining country whose sovereignty cannot be challenged might choose to slaughter them as it did the Vietnamese, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Libyans and other foreign peoples. When control over natural resources or other vital US interests is at stake, slaughter of civilians isn’t that important. In fact the U.S. doesn’t even count the number of civilians it slaughters.

The fourth clue lies in the key word in “Atrocity Prevention Board”. People always like to believe it’s possible to prevent bad things like drug-dealing, crime, poverty and terrorism, even before they happen, if their government just launches a war on these social ills. But historically, it’s never worked. Usually such wars only increase whatever problem they are supposed to be preventing. International law experts have long puzzled over the slight differences supposed to exist between “pre-emptive” and “preventive” wars, not to mention how either type of “prevention” relying as it does on Minority Report type fiction and WMD intelligence propaganda differs from the “supreme international crime of launching a war of aggression” according to the old Nuremberg Principles. Shouldn’t we therefore think twice about joining these “peace” groups in applauding Obama’s adding “the prevention of atrocities” to expand on Bush’s “war on terrorism” and the other social ills that the US government can use military force to combat increase?

Finally it’s no surprise that the range of tools available for enforcing the prevention of “atrocities” listed on the White House Fact Sheet and Comprehensive Strategy ends with plenty of old familiar military force!

We will make our military and civilian workforce better equipped to prevent and respond to atrocities:

o DOD will further develop operational principles … be included in its Joint Publication on Peace Operations. This document will help ensure that forces have the training and knowledge to succeed in atrocity prevention missions.

o Geographic combatant commands will incorporate mass atrocity prevention and response as a priority in their planning, activities and engagements.

The Fact Sheet also hypocritically touts Obama for having “created (in 2010) the first-ever White House position dedicated to preventing and addressing war crimes and atrocities”. But do the Obama-supporting peace groups not recall that even before then, right after his 2009 inauguration, Obama instituted his other torture policy of always “looking forward and never backward” with regard to U.S. war crimes? This can only mean one thing, that only other countries’ (and not U.S.) war crimes will conveniently be considered “atrocities”.

Undoubtedly the American public will more readily approve of “atrocity prevention missions” than old-fashioned declarations of real war or other undeclared use of US military force. The public has long tired of war. But as long as no one remembers George Orwell’s warning about calling war “peace”, the hijacked terminology is bound to fool us for awhile—indeed it already has—although how many it fools in the rest of the world, especially the foreigners under U.S. drones and other bombing, is more doubtful.)

It should be noted that the Peace Alliance (like other peace organizations, i.e. Carnegie Endowment for Peace and Nobel Peace Prize) has “evolved”. To my knowledge, the Peace Alliance was originally formed to solely support Dennis Kucinich’s legislative bill to create a “Department of Peace”. It held annual conferences in Washington for a few years and I spoke at one such conference in 2005. But I always had a nagging question about the push for a “Department of Peace” that went unanswered. How would it overcome the track record of its predecessor, the “United States Institute of Peace”? Undoubtedly the USIP still contains some good people but it also evolved to encompass militarism, war planning intelligence and notorious neo-con war hawks Daniel Pipes and Eric Edleman, among others, even served or serve on its Board.

I also remembered something else. I was at an energy conference in 2005 or so when a USIP “fellow”—an elderly female academic “expert”—gave a talk to a large audience of energy company executives about the emerging issues involved in quelling the violence in Iraq. I don’t recall her presentation including any criticism at all of the US decision to invade Iraq based on the concocting of the false “intelligence” about WMD, only that persistence would now be needed to pacify Iraq. Afterward (since I was sitting in the front row), I witnessed a top executive of Shell Oil approach her privately to congratulate her on her presentation.

It won’t be hard to guess where the idea for the “Atrocities Prevention Board” came from. Remember the grand dame of utilitarianism who spouted that the deaths of ½ million Iraqi children were “worth it”?! Yes, the history of Madeleine Albright, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, the US Institute of Peace and the creation of the APB is available right on USIP’s Wikipedia.

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