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Genocide Prevention Task Force guidelines are vague, useless

Sultan Ahmed

Issue date: 1/30/09 Section: Opinion
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On Jan. 20, 2009, history was made: the first African-American president of the United States of America took his oath of office. Barack Obama has quite the quagmire to deal with as he descends from Mount Sinai to take his humble place in the Oval Office. One of the biggest issues Obama must contend with in this term of office is defining U.S. policy toward genocide around the world. What can the United States do to help prevent genocide? Can the United States take any action to arrest already-occurring genocide? In the wake of the invasion of Iraq, does the U.S. still have enough international legitimacy to partake in peace operations? These are all questions the Obama administration must now address.

Fortunately, the president does not have to face this task alone. The newly formed Genocide Prevention Task Force, headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, has published a set of guidelines to aid the new administration in developing a genocide prevention policy. In the wake of this historic inauguration, I thought it fitting to examine this report and its possible utility for the Obama administration.

I learned about the report from an article in the Lexington Opinion section of the Dec. 11, 2008 issue of The Economist. The article, entitled "Preventing genocide: Advice for Barack Obama on grappling with a problem from hell," explained that a committee headed by Albright had developed a set of guidelines to help define genocide prevention policy. The author of the article sarcastically criticized the efforts of the committee as basically useless. I decided to see for myself what the task force had accomplished, and I must say, I rather agree with Lexington.

Overall, I found the guidelines to be sketchy at best. The task force's publication is plagued with the use of vague generalities and what I would call statements of the obvious. To begin with, there is no definition of genocide! This oversight completely removes any impact these guidelines would otherwise have had. Even a perfectly developed policy is useless if one doesn't know where to apply it. But, I will forgive this transgression as an attempt to avoid causing political and semantic ruckus. What about the rest of the report?

Let us now refer to these verbatim recommendations from the task force's report:

"Recommendation 1-2: Under presidential leadership, the administration should develop and promulgate a government-wide policy on preventing genocide and mass atrocities."

"Recommendation 4-3: The secretary of state should enhance the capacity of the U.S. government to engage in urgent preventive diplomatic action to forestall emerging crises."

In short, the administration should develop a policy, and the secretary of state should help the administration in enacting that policy. That is a big help, right? A substantial portion of the report is just like these two recommendations: vague and painfully obvious. Granted, some sections are a little more exciting, with colorful charts and the names of specific organizations, but they provide very little in the way of an actual policy definition.

Also, as a side note, there are a disproportionate amount of recommendations relating specifically to the office of Secretary of State, placing responsibility after responsibility upon the position. I think Albrightmay just be a little jealous of Hillary.

Remember near the beginning of this article when I said it was fortunate Obama wasn't working alone on this matter? Well, just maybe, the Messiah would have been better off without the Disciples.

To view the report in its entirety, visit

Sultan Ahmed is a freshman biochemistry, philosophy, and religion major. He is a member of Mock Trial and Model UN and plans to become a bioethicist.
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    kevin beck

    posted 2/03/09 @ 1:08 AM EST

    very good points were brought up in this article. it is great to see a college student who cares about the terrible wars and kilings that occur on our earth. (Continued…)

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