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Obama visits Holocaust Museum, unveils new Syria and Iran sanctions

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

After a solemn walk through Washington's haunting United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, President Barack Obama on Monday unveiled new sanctions targeting Iran and Syria and extended American aid in the hunt for Joseph Kony, the Lord's Resistance Army warlord.

Obama, with Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel at his side, toured the museum and wordlessly lit a memorial candle in the cavernous Hall of Remembrance for the millions killed by Nazi Germany.

"I say this as a president, and I say it as a father: We must tell our children about a crime unique in human history," Obama said afterward during a speech in the museum's packed auditorium.

"We must tell our children," Obama said. "But more than that, we must teach them. Because remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing. In this sense, 'never again' is a challenge to us all—to pause and to look within."

Obama announced sanctions on individuals who help Iran and Syria use 21st-century technology—like cellphone tracking or Internet monitoring—to abet the crackdown on dissent in those countries. The sanctions include freezing individuals' assets in the United States and banning people from American soil. The White House did not provide a list of those affected by the move.

"These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them," Obama said, warning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's supporters that they were "making a losing bet." Obama, who sent a small number of special operations forces to central Africa last year as advisers in the hunt for Kony, announced an extension of that mission "to bring this madman to justice, and to save lives."

"It is part of our regional strategy to end the scourge that is the LRA, and help realize a future where no African child is stolen from their family and no girl is raped and no boy is turned into a child soldier," he said.

Obama, whom Republicans accuse of shortchanging Israeli security, also vowed he "will always be there" for the Jewish state.

"When faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," he stressed.

Wiesel, who introduced Obama, wondered openly in his remarks whether world leaders had learned from the inaction that made the Holocaust possible:

If so, how is it that Assad is still in power? How is it that the Holocaust's No. 1 denier, (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, is still a president, he who threatens to use nuclear weapons—to use nuclear weapons—to destroy the Jewish state? Have we not learned? We must. We must know that when evil has power, it is almost too late.

In a direct message to Obama, Wiesel declared, "I hope you understand, in this place, why Israel is so important."

He said: "Israel cannot not remember. And because it remembers, it must be strong—just to defend its own survival and its own destiny."

Obama said he would award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to Jan Karski, a Polish Catholic who was among the first to sound the alarm about the Holocaust.

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And he announced that the governmental Atrocities Prevention Board he created last August would hold its first meeting to discuss steps to prevent mass killings.

"This is not an afterthought. This is not a sideline in our foreign policy," Obama said.

The president also announced he would commission the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on mass killings—compiling the assessments of the American intelligence community on the risks of and possible responses to genocide.

"We need to be doing everything we can to prevent and respond to these kinds of atrocities—because national sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your people," he said.

After his speech, Obama shook hands with Holocaust survivors in the first two rows of the audience.

John McCain, a frequent and vocal critic of Obama's foreign policy, welcomed the president's announcements but said more must be done to help Syria's opposition survive the government's deadly crackdown.

"The only way to stop the killing, force Assad to leave power, and create the conditions for a negotiated political transition for Syria is to change the military balance of power on the ground, including giving the Syrian people the means to defend themselves," McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, said in a statement.

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