White House press secretary Josh Earnest was recently asked why the Obama administration refuses to call the Islamic State’s (ISIS) brutal assault on Christians “Christian genocide.” His response speaks volumes. “Legal ramifications,” he blandly and bloodlessly answered, assuring us “there are lawyers that are considering whether or not that term can be properly applied.”
These pathetic, cold and empty words are especially jarring coming from the Obama White House. After all, it was President Obama who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for “his diplomacy…founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.” It was President Obama who declared, “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.” It was President Obama who lectured us in 2012, “Too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale…‘Never again’ is a challenge to defend the fundamental right of free people and free nations to exist in peace and security…‘Never again’ is a challenge to nations.”
It pays to recall that “Never again” is what the world said after Hitler and his death cult tried to erase Europe’s entire Jewish population. In response, the United Nations in 1948 declared as genocide “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group”: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of one group to another group.
Much of what ISIS has done in its rampage through Syria and Iraq is too gruesome to describe in this venue. But here’s the R-rated version (one strains to find the words to sufficiently soften it to PG-13). You be the judge of whether it amounts to genocide or attempted genocide:
- The European Union reports that Christians and Yazidis (a Kurdish religious tradition that blends elements of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam) “have been killed, slaughtered, beaten, subjected to extortion, abducted, and tortured” by the Islamic State’s coordinated campaign of butchery and brutality.
- ISIS has orchestrated mass-beheadings of Egyptian Christians; razed, desecrated, and plundered ancient Christian churches; shelled Christian homes; targeted Assyrian Christians for abduction; and crucified Christian children as young as 12.
- As it carries out what the Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea describes as “religious genocide,” ISIS has given Christians a choice to convert to Islam, make payments to remain Christian, or face execution. In a haunting echo of how the Nazis branded Jews, the ISIS death cult marks Christian-owned properties with the Arabic equivalent of the letter “N,” for “Nazarene.”
- ISIS has kidnapped and murdered 1,000 Christians in the Syrian city of Aleppo. The Iraqi city of Mosul has been emptied of Christians.
- As proof of its savage piety, ISIS has murdered 5,000 Yazidis; forced 2,000 Yazidi women into marriage and sex slavery; conducted a systematic campaign of rape against Christian and Yazidi women; imprisoned Christian and Yazidi children as young as eight; sold children into slavery; and perhaps most shocking and shameful of all, used “mentally challenged” children as suicide bombers, according to the United Nations.
- An estimated 700,000 Syrian Christians have fled the ISIS onslaught and the wider civil war in Syria. On a single night in August 2014, ISIS forced more than 150,000 Iraqi Christians from their homes and into hiding. All told, “More than 1 million Christians have fled the terror of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the remaining populations are a small remnant (250,000 in Iraq and 200,000 in Syria),” as J. Daniels, an expert in international human rights law, has written in this space.
This list of mega-crimes is at once shocking yet unsurprising. After all, ISIS leaders have openly declared, “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women.” ISIS materials call for “jihad against the Jews, the Christians, the Rafida [Shiite Muslims], and the proponents of democracy.” The Islamic State’s founding father, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been clear from the beginning that he is at war with civilization, with anything or anyone that refuses to submit, with the very notion of free will.
Like America’s World War II foes, he delights in war. “Soldiers of the Islamic State,” he howls, “erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere. Light the earth with fire.” Like America’s Cold War enemy, he hates freedom and wants to upend the liberal global order. “Let the world know that we are living today in a new era”—an era that will “trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy.” And like his forefather Osama bin Laden, terror is his weapon of choice. “Terrorism is to refuse humiliation, subjugation and subordination… Terrify the enemies of Allah and seek death.”
Worse Than al Qaeda
All of this explains why the European Parliament last month declared ISIS guilty of “committing genocide against Christians and Yazidis.” What’s difficult to explain is why the Obama administration hasn’t come to a similar conclusion—to his credit, Secretary of State John Kerry tried in 2014—and why it hasn’t done more to defend U.S. interests and ideals in this struggle between civilization and barbarism.
Before discussing how ISIS is threatening U.S. interests, a moment on what the president hasn’t done may be instructive.
Gen. David Deptula, who led the initial air campaign in Afghanistan, says, “Airpower needs to be applied like a thunderstorm, and so far we’ve only witnessed a drizzle.” He argues that “excessive procedures…are handing our adversary an advantage.”
The numbers amplify his point. Some 75 percent of warplanes are returning to base without releasing their weapons. The average number of strike sorties per day against ISIS is 11, with an average of 43 weapons releases per day. By way of comparison, Russian officials report that their air force—not known for power projection since the collapse of the Soviet Union— launched 2,300 missions over Syria in a 48-day span. That translates into about 47 per day. In late 2014, the decrepit Syrian air force conducted 210 airstrikes in the span of 36 hours.
To be sure, quality and precision are often more important than quantity when applying kinetic force, but there are benefits to quantity, as the American people—and their enemies—know from previous air campaigns.
For the growing chorus of Americans who demand that U.S. intervention be limited only to places and purposes that directly impact U.S. interests, this is one of those unique instances where humanitarian ideals and national interests overlap.
If the above litany of crimes against humanity assaults America’s conscience, the following illustrates how ISIS represents a clear and present danger to America’s interests:
- According to The New York Times, ISIS has “manufactured rudimentary chemical warfare shells” and is aggressively pursuing a chemical-weapons capability.
- In control of 26,000 square-miles of Iraq and Syria, ISIS is threatening U.S. strategic allies and treaty allies in Turkey, Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia; using its Iraq-Syria beachhead to spread into Europe, Africa, and Afghanistan; and attracting footsoldiers to its cause. In fact, the number of foreigner fighters aligned with ISIS in Iraq and Syria has doubled, with as many as 31,000 people from 86 countries now fighting under the ISIS banner.
- Just as ISIS draws fighters to its caliphate, it also inspires, dispatches, directs and commands fighters around the world, including in the U.S. The FBI has 900 ISIS-related investigations underway in all 50 states.
- Since October 2015, ISIS has been responsible for at least 551 murders in eight countries outside its Iraq-Syria caliphate: The Paris siege (130 killed), Ankara bombing (102 killed), Russian airliner bombing (224 killed), Beirut market bombing (43 killed), Tunis bus bombing (12 killed), San Bernardino massacre (14 killed), Jakarta attack (seven killed), Istanbul suicide bombing (10 killed), and Aden car bombing (nine killed).
Add it all up, and ISIS is “more powerful now than al Qaeda was on 9/11,” according to Rep. Peter King, chairman of a key House counterterrorism committee. Brett McGurk, the president’s envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, calls ISIS “worse than al Qaeda.”
The Interest of Humanity
Even so, we know that global leadership demands more than pursuing simple self-interest. In 1897, Theodore Roosevelt challenged America to resist “cold-blooded indifference to the misery of the oppressed.” Even when “our own interests are not greatly involved,” he declared a few years later, there are “occasional crimes committed on so vast a scale and of such peculiar horror” that “action may be justifiable and proper” “in the interest of humanity at large.”
Nobel laureate and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel invoked this same line of thinking during a 2012 ceremony at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial. “The greatest tragedy in history could have been prevented had the civilized world spoken up, taken measures in 1939, ‘40, ‘41, ‘42,” he intoned. “So in this place we may ask: Have we learned anything from it?”
As the White House averts its gaze, Pilate-like, from the Islamic State’s assault on civilization, as Washington allows sequestration to shrink the reach, role, and resources of civilization’s first responder and last line of defense, as our politics devolves into a reality-TV circus, as the American people focus on their hand-held devices, the answer is obvious. No one dares utter those words “Never again” nowadays. Sadly, as a hemorrhaging world staggers to the end of the Obama era, “Never mind” is more apt.
Alan Dowd is a contributor to the Providence journal’s daily blog.
Photo Credit: During ISIS’ control of Mosul, Iraq, they marked houses with the letter “nun” (ن), meaning that Christians (followers of the Nazarene, or Jesus) lived there and that they should either convert to the ISIS brand of Islam, pay the punitive “jizya” tax, or be killed. Almost all fled while ISIS robbed them. Via social media.