Thursday, March 8, 2012

Presidential Study Directive 10: Mass Atrocities Prevention Board

On August 4th, 2011, President Obama signed off PSD 10, an order to create an "Atrocities Prevention
Board." After declaring that "Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States."  the directive stated:
I hereby direct the establishment of an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board within 120 days from the date of this Presidential Study Directive. The primary purpose of the Atrocities Prevention Board shall be to coordinate a whole of government approach to preventing mass atrocities and genocide. By institutionalizing the coordination of atrocity prevention, we can ensure: (1) that our national security apparatus recognizes and is responsive to early indicators of potential atrocities; (2) that departments and agencies develop and implement comprehensive atrocity prevention and response strategies in a manner that allows "red flags" and dissent to be raised to decision makers; (3) that we increase the capacity and develop doctrine for our foreign service, armed services, development professionals, and other actors to engage in the full spectrum of smart prevention activities; and (4) that we are optimally positioned to work with our allies in order to ensure that the burdens of atrocity prevention and response are appropriately shared.

This effort was spearheaded by Samantha Power, a National Security Council director for multi-lateral affairs, former Harvard professor, and the author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which won the 2003 Pulitzer prize for Non-Fiction.  She also has a long history with President Obama, dating back to 2005-2006, when she was an advisor to the then Senator, reportedly turning him onto the Darfur situation.  She also worked on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign as a top foreign policy advisor, however was forced to resign after she called Hillary Clinton "a monster" for some of the campaign tactics she was employing in Ohio.  This snafu was soon forgotten though, and Power worked on the State Department Transition Team before being appointed to a top post in the National Security Council.  It was during the 2008 campaign that Power met, and then married Cass Sunstein, another advisor to Obama who now works in the White House, heading up the Department of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

      Throughout her career, Power has been a strong advocate of the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine, which says that international actors (assumed to be the Western Powers who created the doctrines) hold the "responsibility" to intervene in sovereign states if it judged that atrocities are being committed, either by government forces or without the government being able to stop them. Powers was the keynote speaker at a November 2010 conference "Preventing Genocide and Mass Atrocities," where she remarked that preventing atrocities had become a U.S. policy objective, as codified in the 2010 National Security Strategy, which she described as including "the most detailed summation of the US government’s approach to mass atrocity that an American President has given to date."
     Moreover, Power was one of the  proponents of the Libyan intervention, along with Secretary of State Clinton and UN ambassador Susan Rice, and against the advice of Defense Secretary Gates, according to a long article by Ryan Lizza in the  May 2011 New Yorker.  Here, Lizza describes the White House's thought process in Mid-March 2011, when Colonel Gadaffi's security forces were successfully pushing back the Libyan rebel fighters, and had almost made it to Benghazi, the rebellions capitol:

Obama asked if a no-fly zone would prevent that grim scenario. His intelligence and military advisers said no. Qaddafi was using tanks, not war planes, to crush the rebellion. Obama asked his aides to come up with some more robust military options, and left for dinner. At a second meeting that night, he was presented with the option of pushing for a broader resolution that would allow for the U.S. to protect the Libyan rebels by bombing government forces. He instructed Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., to pursue that option... 
Instead of the President announcing the Administration’s position from the East Room of the White House, the U.N. envoy quietly proposed transforming a tepid resolution for a no-fly zone into a permission for full-scale military intervention in Libya...
The vote, on March 17th, was 10–0, with five abstentions. It was the first time in its sixty-six years that the United Nations authorized military action to preĆ«mpt an “imminent massacre.” Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, wrote, “It was, by any objective standard, the most rapid multinational military response to an impending human rights crisis in history.”

This is the "responsibility to protect" in action, and the current situation in Libya shows all the disasters that the doctrine can entail.  The many different militia groups who were "protected" by NATO bombing now do not want to relinquish their guns or cede power to any central government power, and the National Transitional Council (NTC) government, which was deemed by the West to take control of Tripoli, has very little legitimacy in the eyes of Libyans.  Just this month, the UN published a report that accused the anti-Gaddafi militias of committing War crimes such as torture, revenge killings, and mass arrests, acts that have continued through at least February 2012.  The UN report also chastised NATO bombing runs for killing civilians and striking areas with no military purpose.  Such is the outcome of U.S. military intervention as dictated by R2P, and especially one undertaken against the advice of the Pentagon.
      And with the establishment of the "Atrocities Prevention Board" in August 2011, the Responsibility to Protect has found an easier path to worm its way into U.S. policy.  Power was given 120 days to design and implement the board, which means that it would have been in place by December 2011.  This was roughly the same time that U.S. covert operations began to be conducted against Syria, authorized by a Presidential finding signed at that time.
      More importantly, the board puts government officials statements on Syria in a new light.  Take this quote from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, given during congressional testimony earlier this week: "I don't think there is any question that we are experiencing mass atrocities [in Syria]."  Is it now U.S. doctrine, as described by PSD 10, to prevent these atrocities, regardless of their relations to America's national interest?  What level of prevention does it necessitate, or, in more vulgar terms, how many Syrian lives is the life of a U.S. soldier worth?
     For that matter, how about Palestinian lives, or Bahraini lives, which evidently the U.S. does not have the responsibility of protecting?  American policy will have no legitimacy in the Middle East  when such glaring hypocrisies can be pointed out.

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