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  • The Genocide Prevention Task Force:Recycling People and Policy
  • Herb Hirsch (bio)

For many who have spent most of their academic careers studying genocide, Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers (the Albright-Cohen Report) will be seen as a huge disappointment.1 Yes, perhaps it draws some minimal attention to the issue of genocide, but it is so hampered by its numerous flaws, and it appears at such an inopportune moment—with attention focused on what are, for the moment, more pressing issues—that it will likely have little, if any, impact.

There are certain obvious problems that may be illuminated by comparing the report to Gareth Evans' recent book The Responsibility to Protect.2 In fact, comparing the two illustrates clearly the weakness of the Albright-Cohen report and provides some indication of how our discussion here will proceed.

First, where Evans is clear, concise, and direct, this report is poorly written and filled with jargon that would drive a sane person crazy. Bureaucrat-speak is everywhere. Allow me to give you just one example, from page 88: "The United States could utilize templates of various political–military 'flexible deterrent options' as a matrix for genocide prevention." There follows, by the way, the suggestion that the United States should use "both kinetic and non-kinetic tasks."

Second, where Evans is forthright and accurate in his discussion of previous atrocity crimes and the response to them, or lack thereof, the Albright-Cohen Report at best fudges and at worst is revisionist. This is particularly true with respect to events in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda: the report appears to want to rewrite the sad history of those events and avoid forthright confrontation with the abysmal US response. Evans does not equivocate. In addition, the report virtually ignores the long historical record of genocide and the feeble response from the United States and elevates the eventual attempted response in Kosovo to a story of success not completely substantiated by events. Given such a weak analysis of history, the report cannot form the foundation of an adequate policy.

In addition, it is comical, perhaps ironic, how often proclamations of this type appear on the anniversary of an important past event—one supposes that this is intended to add gravitas and impact. In reality, of course, this is a convenient fiction allowing the report—and it is usually a report, rather than actual policy—to be released, announced, or celebrated on the anniversary of some past momentous event. In the case of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, the significant date was the sixtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Astute observers might ask why the task of preventing genocide was not discussed ten years ago (in 1998), when some of the authors were actually still in positions of power and had recently experienced the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia (1992–1995) and in Rwanda (1994)—which, if memory serves, they did very little to prevent or to stop. Or why not twenty years ago, before those sad events occurred, [End Page 153] when perhaps the report's authors could have helped to prevent them. It is not as though genocide were unknown.

If one were cynical or suspicious, one might suspect an attempt to cleanse the record, to rewrite an unfortunate history by focusing on how to prevent a phenomenon that, in reality, is less common now than was at in the second half of the twentieth century (although surely those being slaughtered in Darfur would disagree, as would those experiencing the events in the DRC—if these are in fact instances of genocide). It is almost too convenient.

Third, and relatedly, the recycling business is alive and thriving in Washington, DC. In fact, as many have argued, there is a permanent Washington presence that recycles itself and then recycles policies. Past errors are conveniently forgotten or, at the very least, not admitted. The old adage that once one gets close to power one loses one's ability to criticize or to see alternatives is all the more obviously true if one observes both foreign and domestic policy making—notably the line...


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pp. 153-154
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