Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Of Presidents and Bluffing

by Elliott Abrams
May 6, 2013


The Syria crisis has led to a great deal of criticism of administration policy, most of it in my view quite justified on both humanitarian and strategic grounds. I discuss this in a short article in the Weekly Standard, here.

Consider the humanitarian issue, now with an estimated 75,000 dead and 4 million displaced. According to a New York Times story, at a meeting last summer an Obama administration official asked “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

As I note in the Weekly Standard:

How soon they forget. According to the Times that line was uttered last August, not quite four months after Mr. Obama established his “Atrocities Prevention Board.” In a speech on April 23, 2012 he said this at the Holocaust Museum:

And finally, “never again” is a challenge to nations.  It’s a bitter truth — too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale.  And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.

Four months to go from there to “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Steve

    There is no genocide here – this is civil war with both sides -as they really are – being anti-American and antisemitic twisted and evil. There is no, no US interest in having either side win. A case can be made there is a US interest in having both sides fight forever. And Obama was wrong – the US has nothing to be haunted about regarding any genocides, except perhaps the one committed against Native Americans. Please go volunteer your own blood and treasure for people who would slaughter you in a heartbeat. You can be as foolish as you like with your life and money. Don’t ask Americans to do the same.

  • Posted by Phil

    March 1998
    President Clinton
    Kigali Airport Tarmac

    “We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred” in Rwanda.

    In the course of a hundred days in 1994 the Hutu government of Rwanda and its extremist allies very nearly succeeded in exterminating the country’s Tutsi minority. Using firearms, machetes, and a variety of garden implements, Hutu militiamen, soldiers, and ordinary citizens murdered some 800,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu. It was the fastest, most efficient killing spree of the twentieth century.

    Something tells me the US military and partners could have stopped ‘firearms, machetes, and a variety of garden implements’ don’t you think?

    President of Rwanda to Prudence Bushnell after the massacre

    “we told you what was going to happen and you did nothing.”

  • Posted by Phil

    Early warning signs and stages of genocide in Syria are:

    – The Alawite government of al-Assad believes it is about to lose all power in a zero-sum, winner take all revolution. Its massacres have become genocidal.

    – Prior unpunished genocidal massacres, such as those perpetrated by Assad’s father in Hama in the 1980’s

    – Rule by a minority sect – the Alawite sect that supports Assad with an exclusionary ideology

    – Systematic human rights atrocities

    – Fear by the ruling elite that any compromise will mean total loss of their power

    – Deliberate targeting of particular groups — Sunni Muslims and army defectors

    – Denial by the Syrian government that it is committing crimes against humanity, blaming “foreign – inspired terrorist gangs” for the armed conflict.


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