Last week, I blogged about President Obama’s new directive identifying the prevention of mass atrocities as a “core national security interest” and establishing an Atrocities Prevention Board to develop and coordinate the administration’s responses to situations where mass killing may occur (link). On Foreign Policy‘s web site yesterday, Celeste Ward Gventer offered a dissenting view on this initiative (“Interventionism Run Amok“). She worries that the prioritization of atrocities prevention as a “core national security interest” will pull the U.S. into more military interventions in complex conflicts it mistakenly views through the narrow lens of humanitarian concerns, and, to make matters worse, that those interventions will be ineffective.
I suppose that outcome is possible, but I gather that the point of the president’s Board is precisely to avoid that fate. With more lead time, more coordination, and more creative thinking about ways to discourage atrocities, I think the president hopes to help shrink the odds that future conflicts will turn toward mass killing so that the question of U.S. military intervention does not even come up. In corporate-speak, I think the goal is to try smarter, not harder. The president’s initial reluctance to intervene with force in Libya and the early rejection of U.S. military action as an option in Syria tell me that this administration is looking to avoid gunboat preventionism, not to embrace it.