[See updates at end of post]
Shortly after 9/11 I discovered blogs, and I remember reading a quip that caught my eye. I don’t remember who wrote it, but it went something like this: “I just realized what the problem is with the 21st century. We got the numbers mixed up. It’s not 2001, it’s 1200.”
It’s only gotten more true in the ensuing years; barbarism and religious wars have made a strong comeback—not that they’d ever really disappeared. But with the rise of ISIS we have a group giving itself over to their purest expression. Beheadings and crucifixions are part of their m.o., as well as forced conversions with the threat of death or exile looming, and now the imminent extermination of a minority religious group, the Yazidi, at ISIS’s bloody hands.
The Yazidi have one representative in Iraq’s parliament. Her name is Vian Dakhil and her recent raw cri de coeur to save her people has made her famous. The world loves a show and a dramatic story, but it no longer loves actually taking on risky rescues, and has become accustomed to relying on the Americans to do so, and the US to organize whatever help from others might be forthcoming.
Obama has changed all that. He is said to be mulling over some assistance; no doubt he is focusing like a laser on it. Forgive me for being skeptical, since he has yet to do a thing (or even speak out with any force at all) about Christians being persecuted in Muslim lands.
Nature—and geopolitics—abhors a vacuum. The deposing of bad guy Saddam Hussein left a hole that other bad guys would inevitably rush in to fill, and anyone who would cause the first had the duty to stick around at some level for at least a generation to try their best to ensure that a new group of leaders of a different ilk would be substituting for the second. I always thought our war on Iraq had to include that sort of commitment. But quite early on it became clear that, due to the efforts of the left in this country and changes in Americans’ attitude towards war, occupation, and sacrifice, we lacked the requisite commitment.
Even the Bush administration was dedicated to that purpose only halfway, and halfway measures don’t tend to do the trick. But with the surge, they seemed to finally be good enough. At the time of the handoff to Obama, things were at the point that if our new president had had the same focus as the old, ISIS would almost certainly not be here today (also, its Syrian genesis was facilitated by Obama’s disastrous policies there).
But we all know that Obama very much lacked Bush’s level of commitment, and the Islamic terrorists knew it, too, right from the start, because Obama made it crystal clear.
The one last chance to prevent disaster was that Obama might have left a very reduced American presence in Iraq under a SOFA agreement. But he made only token and empty efforts to do that, and in fact was relieved to be able to pull out entirely:
The current horror show in Iraq, including the pending extermination of the Yazidi, follows from that sequence of events. A small residual force—which Obama never wanted to leave there—would have allowed us to retain the ability to strike in a timely fashion, when ISIS was first massing and vulnerable. It would have given us a conduit to intelligence information that we now lack. It would have given us a flexibility there we don’t have.
Obama had bet that Iraq was stable enough that nothing too dramatic would flare up there during the remaining years of his administration. He bet wrong. And he’s still betting than he can dither and stall until the next crisis comes along to distract the ADD American people. And in the meantime, he’s trying to get enough illegal immigrants into this country to make it so that future votes will consist of a rubber-stamping of whatever the left wants. As for the Yazidi, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Well, the surviving Armenians do, but the Yazidi are a far smaller and more localized group. It’s possible that Obama will be roused from his non-interventionist slumber by their plight, although I tend to doubt it:
Yesterday, a senior U.S. official told me that the Obama Administration is contemplating an airlift, coördinated with the United Nations, of humanitarian supplies by C-130 transport planes to the Yazidis hiding in the Sinjar mountains. There are at least twenty thousand and perhaps as many as a hundred thousand of them, including some peshmerga militiamen providing a thin cover of protection. The U.N. has reported that dozens of children have died of thirst in the heat. ISIS controls the entrance to the mountains. Iraqi helicopters have dropped some supplies, including food and water, but the refugees are hard to find and hard to reach.
It was encouraging to learn that humanitarian supplies might be on the way, but we always seem to be at least a step behind as ISIS rolls over local forces and consolidates power. ISIS is not Al Qaeda. It operates like an army, taking territory, creating a state.
But ISIS certainly won’t be stopping with the Yazidis. Every religious and ethnic group in Iraq other than fundamentalist Sunni Muslims faces grave danger, actual and potential. Why should we care, other than for humanitarian reasons? Increasing instability in the region threatens us all, as does the rise of the strongest, most well-armed, and richest Islamist terrorist group the world has known so far. Islam has bloody borders, but in recent decades the world has shrunk, and we all know how little borders seem to mean these days.
[UPDATE 910 PM: For the past few hours, all sorts of new and highly conflicting and confusing information has been reported and then denied. Hot Air has been keeping up with things. First there was a report from the Kurds that the US had bombed ISIS, then a denial by the Obama administration, then a report that we’ve done airdrops of food to the besieged Yazidi, then a denial, then a report that the bombing was accomplished by the Iraqi air force. There’s probably more, too, but that’s what I’ve seen so far.
So basically we know very little except that something may be stirring. Whether ISIS was bombed and if so who did it is unknown. Same for airdrops. Whether the administration really hasn’t a clue or whether they are issuing denials for military strategic reasons is also unknown.
One very bad bit of news, on top of all the other bad news, is that the Kurds—long thought to be strong militarily and in terms of morale—seem to be folding in the face of ISIS.
And this report, if true, is the stuff of nightmare.]
[UPDATE 10:18 PM: Obama has announced limited, targeted airstrikes for humanitarian reasons, with caveats:
Obama said he has given the green-light to the Pentagon for the limited, targeted bombing if top military officials monitoring the shifting situation on the ground believe ISIS continues to pose a serious threat to people in the northern Kurdish-controlled region or if militants threaten U.S. servicemen and personnel in Irbil, according to a U.S. official.
Still, the president’s authorization of any airstrikes in Iraq is abrupt departure from his goal of preventing further U.S. military intervention in Iraq after ending the war there and removing all troops at the end of 2011. Obama was swept into office in 2008 in part because of his promises to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and limit U.S. military intervention abroad.
Is there any doubt that “ISIS continues to pose a serious threat to people in the northern Kurdish-controlled region”? Of course not. So that statement may have been put in there just to give Obama some wriggle room and ability to stall.
Obama included an assurance (to the left, no doubt) that we will not be drawn into another war in Iraq nor will we put any troops on the ground. ISIS will be very happy to hear those assertions. Even if Obama intends to keep such a promise, revealing it to the enemy at this point is tremendously counterproductive (just like the announcements at his presidency’s outset that he would be withdrawing from Iraq). But Obama is more intent on soothing the fears of his political base.
So it seems something may be done, but we don’t know when, what or how much. I’m glad some action is at least being strongly contemplated, but six months earlier would have been far far better. Even two weeks earlier would have been a great deal better. Obama has waited till the eleventh hour, and it’s not even clear at this point whether the bombing will actually take place. An ounce of prevention would have been worth several tons of cure, and many innocent lives would probably have been saved.]