Holocaust museum reposts Syria study, softening conclusions


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum re-released a controversial study of Syria’s civil war, removing passages critics said exonerated the Obama administration’s actions.

The study is now available without an executive summary that included a sentence that the United States could have done little to prevent the carnage, which has claimed an estimated 500,000 lives, the New York Times reported on Thursday. Added to it are an essay arguing for greater U.S. involvement in Syria and an announcement of a planned survey of Syrian groups assessing what U.S. policies they would like to see.

The offending passage in the paper, posted and then withdrawn in September, had said that “a variety of factors, which were more or less fixed, made it very difficult from the beginning for the U.S. government to take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.”

Jewish groups joined some human rights activists in arguing that this absolved President Barack Obama of fecklessness.

Critics of Obama have argued that in his effort to prevent America from a quagmire in Syria, he did too little to arrest the carnage in a civil war in which 400,000 people have died and Syria has been accused of using sarin gas, chlorine gas and barrel bombs. Many point to his decision in September 2013 to postpone a military strike against the Syrian government in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack and instead to seek authorization from Congress.

The museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. which authored the paper, used computational modeling and game theory methods, as well as interviews with experts and policymakers, to determine that U.S. involvement in the wake of the 2013 chemical weapons attack in Ghouta would not have reduced atrocities in the country and may have contributed to them.

Cameron Hudson, who leads the Center, told the Times that the original paper may have been skewed too much to academics.

“We have to recognize that we also have a general audience for this work, and we also have an audience of victims and survivors,” he said.

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