The coldblooded atrocities being committed by the fundamentalist militants fighting under the Islamic State’s banners in Iraq and Syria continue unabated.
ISIS militants in the north and west of Iraq are destroying ancient Christian and Shiite religious shrines unchecked, have robbed Christian Iraqis and purged them from the areas they control, and are now carrying out a virtually genocidal massacre of Shia Muslim men.
In a video that was deemed too graphic even for YouTube, ISIS militants revealed their brutality for the world when they posted footage featuring hundreds of Muslim men being summarily executed. “The video shows several dump trucks full of young men on their way to slaughter,” Jim Hoft wrote on Monday. The anguish of those young men who knew they are about to die is beyond recounting.
With these horrors unfolding before our eyes, where are those who once styled themselves champions of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine that once served as the academic framework for humanitarian intervention?
Where is United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, who once reportedly played a significant role in pushing President Barack Obama to intervene in Libya in 2011 and to advocate for congressional legislation calling for the arrest of Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony? The scale of the atrocities being committed in Iraq today is surely on par with those crimes which once moved Power to act.
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Power argued that genocides in Armenia, Cambodia, Rwanda, and the German death camps were actively permitted by the international community. This, she suggested, made the world complicit in the crimes being committed by the practitioners of genocide.
“The most common response,” Power wrote of the 20th Century’s genocides, “is ‘We didn’t know.’ This is not true.”
“It is daunting to acknowledge, but this country’s consistent policy of nonintervention in the face of genocide offers sad testimony not to a broken American political system but to one that is ruthlessly effective,” she added. “No U.S. president has ever made genocide prevention a priority, and no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on.”
President Obama, both a Power fan and a benefactor, aimed to change America’s policy of selective intervention into humanitarian crises when he brought her into his administration. Power, along with then U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, successfully pushed for what The New York Times described as “a military intervention on a scale not seen in the Arab world since the Iraq War” in Libya.
And yet, the heartbreaking violence ISIS continues to commit is met with silence from the international community and notably from those champions of the Libyan engagement.
Where is President Barack Obama who once made the dubious assertion that unrest in Libya must be quelled without concern for America’s parochial vital interests in that country?
“[I]n Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help,” the president said in 2011. “Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed. The message would have been clear: keep power by killing as many people as it takes.”
“Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise,” Obama said of the Arab Spring even as it gave way to a dark winter. “But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”
All that moral clarity and resolve disappears when the conflict is centered in Iraq and the president’s domestic political considerations are taken into account.
In the end, America and the West are unlikely to do anything to stem the tide of violence they unleashed in Iraq by toppling the Hussein regime and abandoning that Middle Eastern state before it could provide for its own security. The case for a NATO-led humanitarian mission in Iraq is stronger than any of the arguments made in favor of intervention in Libya.
Those who once contended that no cost was too high to pay in order to protect human dignity are now weighing the costs associated with recommitting to guaranteeing Iraq’s security and are judging them to be excessive.
The once coveted academic notion of smarter, nuanced, liberal interventionism – a modern peacekeeping doctrine which result in the sloughing off the vestiges crass realism marked by great powers perennially balancing against one another — is just another casualty of the Obama-era. As are the scores of human beings in Iraq and Syria.
This post has been updated since its original publication.