Holocaust Museum Pulls Study Exonerating Obama Inaction in Face of Syrian Atrocities

A picture taken on April 4 shows destruction at a hospital room in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack
Picture taken on April 4 shows destruction at hospital room in Khan Sheikhun, rebel-held town in northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following suspected toxic gas attack / Getty Images
September 6, 2017

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is under fire for penning a study that absolved the former Obama administration for its inaction in the Syrian conflict despite reports of war crimes and atrocities.

Tablet magazine obtained portions of the study, which was due to be released Sept. 11 at an event at the U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C. The study was undertaken by Cameron Hudson, a former Obama administration national security official, who now serves as director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

The study, Tablet reported, was deferential to former President Barack Obama's policy toward the Syrian conflict, arguing that "a variety of factors, which were more or less fixed, made it very difficult from the beginning for the U.S. government to take effective action to prevent atrocities in Syria, even compared with other challenging policy contexts."

Prominent Jewish leaders and thinkers, among others, were outraged by the findings, arguing the U.S. could have done more to address the mass atrocities in Syria.

The experts who Tablet shared the excerpts with blasted the paper's logic.

"Shame on the Holocaust Museum," said Leon Wieseltier, a fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. He castigated the Holocaust Museum for "releasing an allegedly scientific study that justifies bystanderism."

"If I had the time I would gin up a parody version of this that will give us the computational-modeling algorithmic counterfactual analysis of John J McCloy's decision not to bomb the Auschwitz ovens in 1944," Wieseltier added. "I'm sure we could concoct the fucking algorithms for that, too."

"If the reports are saying that nothing could have been done for Syria, this is something that every Syrian American I know considers grossly incorrect," said Shlomo Bolts, a policy officer with the Syrian American Council. "There was a lot that could have been done and that can still be done to stop the mass atrocities in Syria. There are still thousands of civilians in Syria who are being tortured in [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad's jails or fear imminent attacks by Assad forces and there is much that can be done to help them."

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, co-founder of Jews for Human Rights in Syria, said he was baffled by the study.

"When the presidential commission on the Holocaust decided the Museum should also include a committee on conscience, the idea was that they should not merely preserve Holocaust memory but be a force to helping prevent future genocides and mass atrocities," he said. "To merely say no intervention could have made a difference strikes me as a strange conclusion if I understand it correctly ... I don't think we have the right to choose inaction when we know the reality on the ground."

Some Jewish community leaders told Tablet that the Holocaust Museum has been "hijacked" by a massive surge of Obama alumni who have absolved the administration of any wrongdoing in its response to the Syrian conflict. In addition to Hudson, Obama national security staffers Ben Rhodes, Grant Harris, Daniel Benjamin, and Anna Cave have all joined the museum staff in some capacity.

The study has now been pulled from the Holocaust Museum website, replaced with a message explaining its removal.

"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 statement reads. "The Museum has decided to remove the study from its website as we evaluate this feedback.​"