President Obama spoke today at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in conjunction with Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). To be clear, when an American president talks about the Holocaust as a “crime unique in human history,” no matter how platitudinously or disingenuously, that is something positive. No one with any sense of history can quibble with Obama’s comment that “the Shoah cannot be denied.” And given the abysmal state of American education and the prevalence of Holocaust deniers, it remains immensely important for a U.S. president to reiterate: “We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen — because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent.” Giving a Medal of Freedom to a Righteous Gentile, Jan Karski, was a nice touch. (“Among them was Jan Karski, a young Polish Catholic, who witnessed Jews being put on cattle cars, who saw the killings, and who told the truth, all the way to President Roosevelt himself.” Left unsaid, of course, was that FDR did nothing to take in Jewish refugees or to bomb the railroad lines to the death camps.)
All of that said, the speech was somewhat grotesque and hugely hypocritical. Of course, for Obama it always begins with him.:
“Along with Sara Bloomfield, the outstanding director here, we [Obama and Elie Wiesel] just spent some time among the exhibits, and this is now the second visit I’ve had here. My daughters have come here. It is a searing occasion whenever you visit. And as we walked, I was taken back to the visit that Elie mentioned, the time that we traveled together to Buchenwald. . . . As I’ve told some of you before, I grew up hearing stories about my great uncle — a soldier in the 89th Infantry Division who was stunned and shaken by what he saw when he helped to liberate Ordruf, part of Buchenwald. And I’ll never forget what I saw at Buchenwald, where so many perished with the words of Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil on their lips. I’ve stood with survivors, in the old Warsaw ghettos, where a monument honors heroes who said we will not go quietly; we will stand up, we will fight back. And I’ve walked those sacred grounds at Yad Vashem, with its lesson for all nations — the Shoah cannot be denied.
Well, thank goodness for Obama or we might still be in doubt. The “look at me” part of the speech went on for seven full paragraphs.
Aside from his reflexive egomania, the statement was galling in its hypocrisy: “When faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” Except put together a credible military option. “It’s remarkable — as we walked through this exhibit, Elie and I were talking as we looked at the unhappy record of the State Department and so many officials here in the United States during those years.” Unhappy? One is unhappy that FDR packed the court; can’t we be infuriated that he and the State Department willfully ignored the plights of Jews who could have been taken in by the United States? But the worst was certainly this:
Last year, in the first-ever presidential directive on this challenge, I made it clear that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.”
He goes on to list actions in Sudan, Ivory Coast, Libya and Central Africa. But what about the big stuff, you know, in Russia (he congratulated Vladimir Putin after he stole an election and is fighting legislation to bar entry to human-rights abusers), China (where human rights have gone from horrible to atrocious), Egypt (where we refuse to cut off aid), Iran (where we snubbed the Green Revolution), North Korea (which we were prepared to ply with aid) and Syria? On the last, Obama proclaimed that “it tears at our conscience. Elie alluded to what we feel as we see the Syrian people subjected to unspeakable violence, simply for demanding their universal rights. And we have to do everything we can.” But we don’t. We don’t take military action. We don’t insist Syria be kicked out of international bodies. And we cheer Kofi Annan, who goes to Damascus to work out a “cease-fire” that leaves the mass murderer Bashar al-Assad in power.
Obama has now (after three-plus years) come up with another fig leaf: “We’re making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities. So I created the first-ever White House position dedicated to this task. It’s why I created a new Atrocities Prevention Board, to bring together senior officials from across our government to focus on this critical mission. This is not an afterthought.” That’s it — another committee! But it’s not an afterthought, mind you. And another report! (“The intelligence community will prepare, for example, the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on the risk of mass atrocities and genocide.” To those in the national intelligence community: The risk of mass atrocities is going up under this president.)
The gap between Obama’s words and actions in the realm of democracy promotion and human rights is so vast it is a wonder those in attendance did not burst into laughter — or tears. If there is a failing on his part of greater moral significance than his dismal performance on human rights, I’m at a loss to recall it. For Obama, “never again” has all too often become “never lead” and “never stop engaging tyrants.”