Obama On Genocide

by hilzoy

Michael Goldfarb, writing on John McCain's blog, suggests that Barack Obama has flip-flopped on, um, genocide by contrasting Obama's statement today at Yad Vashem with a quote from a year-old AP article. I wrote about that article at the time, so it seems like a good idea to repost some of what I wrote at the time. First, a fuller quote than Goldfarb presents:

"Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.

“Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife which we haven’t done,” Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven’t done. Those of us who care about Darfur don’t think it would be a good idea,” he said.

Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, said it’s likely there would be increased bloodshed if U.S. forces left Iraq.

“Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously. There are still going to be U.S. forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis,” Obama said between stops on the first of two days scheduled on the New Hampshire campaign trail. “There’s no doubt there are risks of increased bloodshed in Iraq without a continuing U.S. presence there.”

The greater risk is staying in Iraq, Obama said.

“It is my assessment that those risks are even greater if we continue to occupy Iraq and serve as a magnet for not only terrorist activity but also irresponsible behavior by Iraqi factions,” he said."

As I wrote a year ago:

"This is one of those articles that makes me want to call up the author and ask to listen to the original interview. The writer is the one who comes up with the claim that Obama doesn't want to use the military to address humanitarian problems, and that preventing genocide is not a good enough reason to stay in Iraq. What Obama is actually quoted as saying, however, is somewhat different. First, he says that if the mere fact of genocide were a sufficient reason to keep armed forces in a country, we would now have forces in the Congo and Darfur. Second, he says that he wants to keep some troops in the region, just in case. Third, and most importantly, he says that he believes that the risks of "increased bloodshed" would be higher, not lower, if our forces stay in Iraq.

That last point is crucial. Suppose you believed that the best way to reduce the chances of a genocide in Iraq was to withdraw our armed forces. You didn't want to withdraw them precipitously, and you planned to keep some residual forces nearby, perhaps in Kuwait or Kurdistan. Nonetheless, you believed that their presence in Iraq was making the fighting worse, not better. Now suppose that someone asked you whether you thought preventing genocide was a good reason to keep our army in Iraq. Of course not, you'd say. That would only make things worse. That's like asking whether my I care enough about global warming to swap my Prius for a Hummer.

That's how I read Obama's answer, in this interview. And I read the headline over it -- Obama: Don’t stay in Iraq over genocide -- as the equivalent of: Hilzoy: Don't change cars to stop global warming!"

In my original post, I cite a number of sources where you can see for yourselves exactly what Obama's position on genocide is, and what he has done to oppose it, and can therefore decide for yourselves whether Goldfarb has made a telling criticism of a genuine inconsistency, or told a more than usually despicable lie.