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What's Wrong with Having an Atrocities Czar?

I'm against atrocities. I'm against genocide. I'd bet you are too.

So why is it somehow so troubling that President Barack Obama, citing a "core national interest" and "core moral responsibility" of the United States, has now ordered into existence an inter-agency Atrocities Prevention Board?

The name alone is not a good sign. With its implication of bureaucrats battling evil, it sounds like satire. An outtake, perhaps, from Graham Greene's novel, Ministry of Fear, or Washington's variation on Saudi Arabia's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. In editorializing last week on this new Atrocities Prevention Board, the Wall Street Journal rightly warned its readers that "this is not an item from the Onion."

Nor is the format promising. At least once per month, and more often in times of emergency, the Atrocities Prevention Board, or APB, will convene representatives of State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security, USAID, the Joint Staff, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA, and the Office of the Vice President to hammer out "the development and implementation of atrocity prevention and response policy." The White House is calling this approach "whole of government," and no doubt everyone will have something to toss into the pot. But if this pileup is now to become yet another piece of entrenched federal bureaucracy, it sounds like a formula for steering policy to the same lowest-common-denominator level as the average National Intelligence Estimate. (I can only guess that they omitted the Post Office and the Department of Transportation because the former is going out of business, and the latter doesn't answer its phones.) Whether that means the entire exercise will be irrelevant, or actively dangerous, remains to be seen.

Nor, if you have reservations about the priorities of Obama's National Security adviser Samantha Power, does it augur well that she is heading this new board -- becoming, as some have already dubbed her, the administration's Atrocities Czar. As James Gibney astutely notes on Bloomberg, "Can the Atrocities Prevention Board Define 'Atrocity'"? Gibney asks, is it an atrocity that a vast majority of Egyptian married women have undergone genital mutilation? Is it an atrocity when an Israeli missile goes astray and kills a Palestinian family? Is it an atrocity when the Japanese government fails to regulate its nuclear plants, and people die. He asks, "Just where does one draw the line?"