Obama: Nigeria kidnappings, Syria show 'man’s worst impulses'

President Obama said Wednesday evening that the recent kidnappings of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria and the devastating civil war in Syria were evidence that “we have not yet extinguished man’s worst impulses,” but argued it was the nation’s moral obligation to act “even when the path is not always clearly lit.”

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The president, accepting an Ambassador to Humanity award at the 20th anniversary of a Holocaust history foundation established by director Steven Spielberg, said the memory of that tragedy demanded action in the face of atrocities.

“I have this remarkable title right now -- President of the United States -- and yet every day when I wake up and when I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria, when there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids and having to think through what levers what power we have at any moment, I think, drop by drop by drop we can erode and wear down these forces that are so disruptive,” Obama said.

Earlier this week, the White House announced it was dispatching a crisis team of military personnel, law enforcement officials, and intelligence agents to Nigeria to assist in the search for nearly 300 missing girls. The president also called for military action following Syria’s use of chemical weapons in its bloody civil war, before agreeing to a deal by which the Assad regime turned over its weapons cache to avoid a strike.

In both instances, Republicans have charged that the president did not do enough to shape outcomes. But on Wednesday, Obama offered a defense of his foreign policy, while hailing the work of the USC Shoah Foundation.

“The individuals who are the victims of such inseparable cruelty make a claim on our consciousness,” Obama said.

The Shoah Foundation collects and preserves video testimonies of survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust, and houses a nearly 52,000 such films in its archive.

Obama argued their stories — like his foreign policy maneuvering — might not immediately deliver results, but would wear down “man’s worst impulses.”

“Silence is evil’s greatest co-conspirator,” Obama said.

The event, which featured Spielberg, late-night host Conan O’Brien, signer Bruce Springsteen, and "Schindler’s List" actor Liam Neeson, was the president’s second star-packed Hollywood event of the night. Earlier, he attended a benefit aiding House Democrats where donors included singer Barbra Streisand and movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Spielberg hailed Obama, saying the president had “insured the U.S. government has the tools to prevent and respond to mass killings.”

“In the face of acts of inhumanity, President Obama has not stood by,” Spielberg said, adding that Obama “has helped exposed the darkened part of humanity to a little more light.”

Both Spielberg and Katzenberg donated $1 million to the super-PAC supporting the president's efforts last year, and were among the Obama's highest-dollar givers.

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