When he was still a Presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama evoked memories of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan by addressing Europeans from Berlin. In what was then the largest audience of his campaign, around 200,000 people gathered to hear Obama ask,
‘Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur?’
Now into his second term, those are the very people Obama has betrayed throughout his presidency. Iranian liberals were left unsupported during the Green Revolution in 2009 which challenged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; ethnic violence orchestrated against Rohingya Muslims in Burma over the last year has displaced more than 140,000 people precisely when Myanmar was being lauded for ‘democratic reforms’; Darfur was abandoned, is half forgotten, and remains unresolved; and just last month Mugabe declared himself the victor of yet another stolen election.
Obama wore his most officious aspect in Berlin when speaking about the need to defend human rights, but his failings in this regard are not unique. The grandly titled United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda stood by in 1994 (in fact, much of it was in active retreat) when the Rwandan genocide started. The following year UN forces stood by again and simply watched as civilians were massacred in Srebrenica. Ironically, this was in a UN designated ‘safe zone.’
Ever since Bashar al-Assad launched a brutal crackdown against his own people the international community has repeatedly warned him against the use of chemical weapons. Obama described it as a ‘red line’ for his administration, a sentiment that was echoed by governments across Europe.
Assad has never been one to fret over Potemkin threats. Footage filmed in the outskirts of Damascus this morning shows the aftermath of yet another chemical attack by his forces. Chemical weapons experts say footage of the incident which show people suffering from the effects of nerve agents would have been impossible to fake. More than 600 people are thought to have died in the attack.
From one atrocity to another, politicians of varying stripes react with depressing familiarity: belatedly, and in sterile remembrance services to mutter exculpatory pieties against inaction. Never again Halabja; never again Srebrenica; never again Darfur.
In years to come our political leaders will look back on Syria and say it all over again, while dictators the world over continue as they do.Tags: atrocities, Dictatorship, President Obama