Holocaust Memorial Museum officials have pulled a study that defended former President Barack Obama's policies regarding the Syrian civil war after backlash from Jewish and Syrian human rights experts.
"Since its release, a number of people with whom we have worked closely on Syria since the conflict's outbreak have expressed concerns with the study," a Holocaust Memorial Museum message says. "The Museum has decided to remove the study from its website as we evaluate this feedback."
The study, produced by the museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, reportedly argued the intractable complexity of the Syrian civil war "made it very difficult from the beginning for the US government to take effective action to prevent atrocities in Syria, even compared with other challenging policy contexts."
However, it was produced under the leadership of a former Obama administration official and met with skepticism by activists and experts.
"When the presidential commission on the Holocaust decided the Museum should also include a committee on conscience, the idea was that they should not merely preserve Holocaust memory but be a force to helping prevent future genocides and mass atrocities," Jews for Human Rights in Syria co-founder Rabbi Shmuley Yanklowitz told Tablet Magazine, which first reported the on the study's withdrawal.
"To merely say no intervention could have made a difference strikes me as a strange conclusion if I understand it correctly. ... I don't think we have the right to choose inaction when we know the reality on the ground."
Obama famously warned Syrian President Bashar Assad the use of chemical weapons is a "red line" for the United States — an apparent threat of a military strike if Assad used the weapons against his people.
Assad flouted the warning, but Obama declined to order the strike unless Congress voted in favor of the attack. He said the decision was motivated in part by concern an airstrike would fail to overwhelm Assad and thus leave the dictator "claiming he had successfully defied the United States." Obama also worried about getting pulled into a war in Syria.
"I'm very proud of this moment," Obama told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg. "The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America's credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically."
"And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America's interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I've made — and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make."
It exposed him to sharp criticism around the world, as activists and foreign policy leaders believed the United States had flinched despite moral and strategic reasons for confronting adversaries in the country.
"If the reports are saying that nothing could have been done for Syria, this is something that every Syrian American I know considers grossly incorrect," Shlomo Bolts, an official at the Syrian American Council, told Tablet.
"There was a lot that could have been done and that can still be done to stop the mass atrocities in Syria. There are still thousands of civilians in Syria who are being tortured in Assad's jails or fear imminent attacks by Assad forces and there is much that can be done to help them."