Holocaust museum retracts study justifying Obama's 'bystanderism' in Syria

The Holocaust Museum as part of its mission seeks to, “alert the national conscience, influence policy makers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.” The portion of the museum which does this work is called the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. And the person currently in charge of the Center is a former Obama administration official named Cameron Hudson.

Yesterday, Tablet reported that the Simon-Skjodt Center was behind a new study which came to the conclusion there was nothing the Obama administration could have done to improve the situation in Syria after an infamous chemical weapons attack in 2013:

Using computational modeling and game theory methods, as well as interviews with experts and policymakers, the report asserted that greater support for the anti-Assad rebels and US strikes on the Assad regime after the August 2013 Ghouta chemical weapons attack would not have reduced atrocities in the country, and might conceivably have contributed to them.

Remember Obama’s red line? That was Obama’s August 2012 announcement that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would change his calculus on military intervention. The chemical weapons attack which came a year later involved the use of Sarin gas to kill nearly 1,500 people, several hundred of them children. The red line had been crossed by the Assad regime. Contradicting his own prior statement, Obama decided against military action. Instead, he invited Assad’s patron state, Russia, to take over the removal of its chemical weapons (which, as we now know, didn’t work).

So this new study being promoted by the Holocaust Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center essentially argued that Obama made the right decision to not intervene after a chemical weapons attack. That didn’t go over well with some observers:

“The first thing I have to say is: Shame on the Holocaust Museum,” said Leon Wieseltier, the literary critic and fellow at the Brookings Institution, who slammed the Museum for “releasing an allegedly scientific study that justifies bystanderism.”

The Museum’s exercise in counter-factual history, he suggested, was inherently absurd. “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. I’m sure we could concoct the fucking algorithms for that, too.”

But it’s not just the conclusion that is of concern. There are also questions being raised about how such a brazenly politicized study wound up being backed by a Museum in the first place:

Some Jewish communal leaders suggested both privately to Tablet, and in conversations with board members and staff at the Holocaust Museum, that the Museum’s moral authority had been hijacked for a partisan re-writing of recent history, and alleged that the museum had absolved the Obama administration of any moral or political error in its response to mass atrocities in Syria.

In addition to Cameron Hudson, Ben Rhodes was appointed to the museum’s board of trustees in 2016. Other Obama administration alumni are also on the staff. When Tablet contacted some of them, no one would speak on the record about the study.

If you visit the site now, the page has a message which reads, “a number of people with whom we have worked closely on Syria since the conflict’s outbreak have expressed concerns with the study. The Museum has decided to remove the study from its website as we evaluate this feedback.” So, at least for the moment, the museum is acknowledging the controversy this has created. Will the decision be explained or investigated? Will anyone be held accountable? That seems to be up in the air.