In his April 2012 speech at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., President Obama said: “We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen — because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent.”
Evil is on the march in Mesopotamia, but the President will stand silent or, at best, will provide cerebral excuses for why even a full-scale American intervention will not suffice and is therefore pointless.
It has been two years since the President uttered those words — yet Syria’s killing fields are still yielding their grim harvest. Another 50,000 people have died there since he spoke — and America has done next to nothing to halt a count that will probably cross the 200,000 mark by the end of the year. Nor are the dead the only victims of that war — some ten million are displaced and at the mercy of the fickle benevolence of Syria’s neighbours.
Now genocide lies in wait in Iraq, as Islamic State (ISIS) unleashes its barbaric vision of seventh-century zealotry on anyone who refuses to embrace it. The sacking of cities, the massacre of their adult male population, the enslavement of their women and children, were until recently mostly a memory from late antiquity or a digitally generated sequence for a movie. Now, courtesy of ISIS, we can watch it all on the evening news.
Yet the President is unperturbed. Americans will not return to land combat in Iraq on his watch. Even if the country where his predecessor poured almost $1 trillion and thousands of American lives were lost goes to hell in a handbasket. Even if a disintegrating Iraq manages to drag down all its constituent parts and much of the region. Even if the demons awakened will then seek new opportunities for slaughter in distant lands beyond the horizon. The President will not commit US ground troops to prevent them from reaching closer shores.
Perhaps Iraq cannot be saved from itself — after all, no amount of American training and equipment could keep the Iraqi army from running before ISIS advanced on Mosul. Perhaps military intervention beyond limited airstrikes is easier said than done. Perhaps a massive arms lift and humanitarian effort in northern Iraq to save Christians, Kurds and Yazidis from the Islamist onslaught could cause controversy at home, cost more in lives and treasure than the American people can take, and still solve few of the festering problems in the Levant.
And perhaps the President is making the best the enemy of the good. In his New York Times interview with Thomas Friedman last month, he spoke repeatedly about “inclusiveness” as his foreign policy goal — one where “there is neither victor nor vanquished” and different factions should work together. Inclusiveness is a nice slogan for a campfire sing-along. It is obscene when it becomes a bystander’s excuse for inaction as evil occurs. Obama does not want America’s planes to become “the Kurdish air force”, as if taking sides in a war between a horde of mass murderers and their civilian victims would harm inclusiveness.
It would be more honest, if no less obscene, to admit that helping the Kurds to carve their own state out of an imploding Iraq, while preserving ancient minorities and their historical heritage from annihilation, may be a distraction that stands in the way of Western chimeras — salvaging the Iraqi Arab state and propping up Palestinian self-determination. Yet these are by now both self-evidently lost causes.
Seven years of Hamas self-rule in Gaza are abundant proof of how futile it is to preach inclusiveness to those who wish their neighbours dead. The Western nations should not chastise Israel for doing what they themselves would do with much more callousness in the same circumstances. They should prop up Israel instead — and make it clear to the divided Palestinian leadership that their rejection of the basics of coexistence will never win them anything but more grief. As for Iraq, tenaciously defending artificial borders that most people in the region never saw as legitimate to begin with is a fool’s errand, especially now that the regional state system is imploding. Instead, the West, with America in the lead, should tenaciously defend the national rights of those groups in the region that are constantly threatened with extinction.
Obama should not send more arms to Baghdad, but to Irbil, Kurdistan’s capital. America should help the Kurds repel the barbarians’ advance, provide shelter to those who flee, and in the process consolidate Kurdistan’s remarkable achievements over the past 20 years.
When Roosevelt refused to order the bombing of Auschwitz, he at least had already committed the greatest military force in history to defeat the Nazi barbarians responsible for genocide in Europe. What has Obama committed in Mesopotamia to make good his high-sounding words about preventing future genocide?