Syria

Holocaust Museum Pulls Study That Came to Obvious Conclusion on Syria Genocide

There's not much the U.S. could have done to stop the killings.

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Christiaan Triebert/flickr

The Holocaust Museum has pulled a research study that concluded that increased U.S. airstrikes and support for Syrian rebels in 2013 may not have reduced the killing and could even have exacerbated the problem. The paper had been scheduled to be unveiled at an event next next week. The museum says it wants to "evaluate" the feedback it received; it's unclear whether the study will be made available again.

The paper's conclusions seem obvious. The situation in Syria is complex, with a wide array of armed factions backed by different foreign powers, ranging from Saudi Arabia to Russia to, of course, the United States. American bombs would not simplify the crisis, nor would they stablize the country. A campaign against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad might limit his ability to perpetrate atrocities, but it would not limit the potential for other actors on the ground to perpetrate similar, or even deadlier, atrocities.

Tablet reports, based on excerpts it obtained, that the Museum's study "absolved" the Obama administration for its inaction in the face of Syrian genocide. The museum's decision to remove the study from its website makes it hard to judge its merits. (It apparently drew on game theory, computational models, and interviews with policymakers and experts.) But the speed with which the paper was condemned—based largely on excerpts, and on the simple fact that it reached conclusions some people disliked—strongly suggests the outrage machine is at work here.

"Shame on the Holocaust Museum," literary critic Leon Wieseltier told Tablet. "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."

Here's the thing: Decisions like this ought to be examined using facts and models—even algorithmic ones. They ought to be engaged soberly, in a way that arrives at conclusions that can be useful to future decision makers. Wieseltier got a good line in, but when we exclude evidence from decisions on issues as grave as war, we are not contributing to a world with less atrocities. We're making it harder to figure out how to prevent atrocities.

There are some legitimate criticisms of the study, though they aren't enough to warrant withdrawing it. The Museum of Jewish Heritage's Abe Foxman pointed out two of them to Tablet. First, the Syrian genocide is not yet over, so any assessment along these lines will by its nature be incomplete. Second, passing judgement on action or inaction is beyond the museum's mandate. The latter point in particular has some merit, though it doesn't affect the report's conclusions.

Another concern is the possible influence of former Obama administration officials. Several Obama alumni, mostly National Security Council staffers, have taken positions within the museum. One of them, Anna Cave, was listed as one of the participants in the study back in June. That's a pretty clear conflict of interest. But even that is no reason to keep people from reading the report.

Genocide is humanity's greatest crime, and preventing it is a worthy goal. An important part of prevention is understanding the limits to different courses of action.

NEXT: Lauren Southern Responds to Reason's Alt-Right Critique [Updated]

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  1. Genocide.

    You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

    Was Assad guilty of atrocities? Yes. Is ISIS guilty of atrocities? Yes. Are there any “good guys” in Syria? Not of any significance. A bunch of shitheads, and a bunch of innocent civilians whose lives are fucked up.

    But, how was what was going on in Syria a genocide? Arabs killing Arabs? It isn’t even as simple as Shia vs. Sunni.

    There have been few, true attempts at genocide over the last several hundred years. The Holocaust is one of them. Perhaps the attempts by the Turks on the Armenians. Even the US against Indians wasn’t genocide. There was some awful things done, but it wasn’t genocide.

  2. OT: Lefty bitching about seasteading.

    The comments are a special kind of stupid.

    1. Comment sections of Gizmodo!? i’m not walking into that shitstorm.

      1. Washing off the stupid afterwards would take weeks.

    2. “We see you’re using and ad blocker.”

      Yep. Sure am. Thanks for noticing.

  3. 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.

    No one’s done that yet?

  4. Tablet reports, based on excerpts it obtained, that the Museum’s study “absolved” the Obama administration for its inaction in the face of Syrian genocide.

    *Phew*

    1. Weapons transfers, air strikes, are non-actions I guess.

      1. I find it interesting that The Tablet seemed to focus on that as the primary question- or at least that’s my interpretation of this blog post.

  5. “Some merit”?

    What if the hacks argued that “science proves” we should start some fucking war?

    1. Then we’d know the Science is Settled.

  6. First, the Syrian genocide is not yet over

    Is it a genocide or is it merely the Assad government killing anyone who opposes it?

    1. Right, it’s a “democide” rather than “genocide” by any meaningful definition of the words, but “genocide” has long taken on the meaning, “mass killings I don’t approve of,” much as “fascism” means “political views I disapprove of.”

  7. To prevent genocide you have to understand the mass psychology that leads to it. There needs to be a mass-minded ideology in place that is clung to with a de facto religious fanaticism, and a division between us and them. The biggest genocide that is coming is the one that will be in the name of Mother Earth that needs to be saved from evil scourge of humanity. It is being promoted now by apocalyptic global warming hysterics who are in the midst of deciding that the best means to reduce carbon footprints is to reduce footprints altogether. Pay attention people, you’re being hoodwinked into it. Think about it, if the Germans had the wherewithal to see their mass delusions and their ultimate consequence, don’t you think they might have taken pause and reconsidered? Now is the time to take pause on the climate apocalyptic nonsense parroted by pseudoscientific prophets of doom or you’l be lining up for the gas chamber in the name of saving the earth very soon and you’ll be doing it willingly.

    1. Do you have a newsletter I can subscribe to?

    2. That seems to be a rather silly conclusion, Sugarsail.

      After all, gases have been repeatedly claimed to cause global warming, and by using gasses to kill the quantity of humans necessary to save Mother Earth the “purifiers” will only speed along the death of the very one that they want to save.

      Sheesh.

      If I still have your attention, may I interest you in a colorful and useful colander?

  8. U.S. airstrikes and support for Syrian rebels in 2013 may not have reduced the killing and could even have exacerbated the problem.

    http://i0.kym-cdn.com/photos/i…..19/9b3.png

  9. There’s not much the U.S. could have done to stop the killings.

    Funny how,

    Not using US power to fund/arm opposition groups and actively train/encourage them to fight to the last man by suggesting that the US is committed to ensuring “Assad must Go“”….

    ….was never part of their ‘modeling’ effort, which was based entirely on an idiotic idea that the US would “stop violence” by committing itself even more to stirring the pot in places we have no compelling interests.

  10. Regarding Leon Wieseltier’s “good line” regarding John J. McCloy’s argument against bombing Auschwitz: McCloy was right. As William B. Rubinstein explained in his excellent book “The Myth of Rescue”, bombing Auschwitz would almost certainly not have saved any Jews, while it most certainly would have cost the lives of many Americans. What Wieseltier and others really wish is that some sort of “gesture” had been made. It’s easy to wish for gestures that cost other people their lives.

  11. Basically Wieseltier is simply in favor of any proposal that involves the U.S. bombing Arabs. That is pretty much it.

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