Of foxes and henhouses

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Former Secretary of Defense Willian Cohen will be co-chairing a new task force to develop guidelines to prevent future genocides. Referred to as the Genocide Prevention Task Force, the group is being implemented by the U.S. Institute for Peace, the United States Holocaust Museum and the American Academy of Diplomacy.

“Because we live in this age of information … we can no longer live in a state of denial or willful indifference,” he said. “And so the purpose of this task force is to look to the past, to be sure, but to look forward to say, ‘What are the signs, what are the options that will be available to the United States as one of the leading forces to help shape multilateral action, to energize people of conscience, to say that this cannot happen, this is not tolerable?’ ”

The international community heaped a lot of criticism on the United States for not becoming involved in Rwanda’s 1994 internecine war and for again reacting too late to Sudan in 2004, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell labeled the situation there a genocide. The Sudanese government has denied that label is accurate.

“Things haven’t worked,” Albright said. “And watching Darfur [Sudan], I think, is one of the things that has led us all to say, ‘OK, let’s give this all another try to see if there are some guidelines and if — speaking of the United States government — if there is some way to organize ourselves better to deal with it.’ ”

She said the idea for the task force came from the unfortunate history of failure of efforts to prevent genocide around the world.

“I would frankly say that this is as a result of frustration,” she said. “That no matter what we say, there are mass killings and genocide. And we want to see what we can do to make some reality to the words ‘never again’.”

At the time of the Rwandan genocide, Albright was serving as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. She argued in a PBS interview (years later), that “in retrospect, it all looks very clear. But when you were [there] at the time, it was unclear about what was happening in Rwanda.” Later, as she served as Secretary of State, she was largely responsible for the United States position in the Balkans.

In addition, Albright and Cohen were both signers of a letter discouraging a U.S. declaration of genocide in Armenia, a fact that was the center of the Genocide Prevention Task Force’s first news conference:

Albright and Cohen spent much of the news conference’s question-and-answer session defending a letter they sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, earlier this year, in which they spoke against a House resolution that would have labeled as genocide the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 by what is now Turkey. The letter, signed by eight former Cabinet secretaries, including Albright, Cohen and Powell, stated that discussion of the bill on the floor could “strain our [United States] relations with Turkey, and would endanger our national security interests in the region, including the safety of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

All of which opens the question, can officials trained in a climate of ignoring genocide for political reasons come together to create future policy that may impact nations in a positive way?

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