Remember the R2P Doctrine? The Obama administration, led by Samantha Power, justified Western intervention in Libya against Moammar Qaddafi in 2011 because of the global “responsibility to protect” civilians threatened by Qaddafi’s forces in Benghazi. As J. E. Dyer wrote in 2011, “by the R2P formulation, endangered civilian populations … trump sovereignty. … According to this text, it is indeed possible to bomb another country for three months without being in “hostilities.”” We deliberately decapitated the Qaddafi regime and turned Libya into the Somalia of the Mediterranean based on the supposed threat to civilians in eastern Libya, which in retrospect looks more like a threat to the same terrorist networks that now operate with impunity there.
What about where a terrorist state actually threatens genocide and ethnic cleansing? Where is R2P when you need it? Jacob Siegel asks that question in The Daily Beast about the shameful inaction of the West as tens of thousands of Yazidis starve and thirst to death while waiting for a rescue:
One week is as long as the average person can survive without water. In extreme temperatures, it may be less. So time is running out for the 10,000 to 40,000 Iraqis, mostly religious minorities, who have been trapped for days in barren mountains without food or water. They face a choice: return to their towns captured by ISIS forces and risk being slaughtered or stay in the mountains and slowly die of thirst.
The slow-motion massacre of the Yazidis, members of a small, ancient religious community who escaped to the mountains along with other groups after ISIS overran their towns, began with a military defeat for the Kurds, one of the closest U.S. allies in the region. The Kurds’ losses, and the subsequent plight of the Yazidis, call into question what role, if any, America is willing to play in Iraq. …
U.S. attention, of course, is stretched thin with Gaza and Ukraine. But the near silence on Iraq is hard to square with the severity of the crisis and the initial decision to send military forces there.
If the American public and political class won’t bear any U.S. military involvement in Iraq, why were troops dispatched to the country? And if ISIS overrunning the Kurds, taking control of key infrastructure, and carrying out a deliberate slaughter of the Yazidis isn’t enough to get the U.S. forces involved, is there anything that would force a U.S. military response?
Siegel notes that direct aid to the Kurds, who have the best angle for a response, is diplomatically difficult since we do not recognize Kurdish independence. But did we respect the diplomatic niceties in Libya? The point of R2P, at least as formulated by Power and Obama, was that it bypassed those relationships and international constraints, especially when a genocide is about to take place. That condition was arguable in Libya, but it certainly isn’t with ISIS in Iraq. And it’s not just the Yazidis, either:
Jihadists have taken over Iraq‘s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and the surrounding areas sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing towards autonomous Kurdistan, according to officials and witnesses.
Islamic State (Isis) militants moved in overnight after the withdrawal of Kurdish peshmerga troops, who are stretched thin across several fronts in Iraq, residents said.
“I now know that the towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants,” Joseph Thomas, the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, told AFP.
Qaraqosh is an entirely Christian town that lies between Mosul, the jihadists’ main hub in Iraq, and Arbil, the Kurdish region’s capital. It usually has a population of around 50,000.
“It’s a catastrophe, a tragic situation. We call on the UN security council to immediately intervene. Tens of thousands of terrified people are being displaced as we speak, it cannot be described,” the archbishop said.
Tal Kayf, home to a significant Christian community as well as members of the Shabak Shia minority, also emptied overnight.
ISIS has conducted ethnic/religious cleansing on a massive scale for months, and is about to commit pure genocide on Mount Sinjar. The Telegraph’s Dan Hodges calls it the Rwanda of our time:
Mount Sinjar is not downtown Baghdad. Or even downtown Gaza. Here is an instance – a very rare instance – where the good guys and the bad guys are very clearly defined. …
We can start to airdrop emergency aid. We can provide arms to the Yazidi and their defenders. We can provide air support to drive Isis form the immediate area. We could, heaven forbid, provide ground troops to construct an impromptu safe haven.
All of those things are in our power. But we chose not to do them. Why? Because we are paralysed by our perverse new morality. “We killed innocent people in Iraq,” we say to ourselves, “so to atone we must stand back and let innocent people get killed in Iraq.”
For once, just for once, can we actually do something? The UN, Nato, the US and the UK. It doesn’t really matter whose umbrella its under. For once let’s demonstrate that the billions of pounds we spend on the most powerful military forces in human history can actually stand up to a bunch of petty hoodlums with machetes, or AK47s, or Toyota 4x4s.
Just this once let’s not wait. For the book. And then the film. And then the hand-wringing and empty pledges that “we will ensure this never happens again”.
Just this once let’s actually stop them being killed with their families.
Paul Mirengoff wrote yesterday about the hypocrisy and cowardice of the Obama administration on R2P:
In my opinion, the U.S. is responsible for the plight of these families for two reasons. First, if the President Obama had not pulled out of Iraq, it’s unlikely that ISIS would ever have reached the point where it can commit atrocities against this population. Second, if Obama had provided military supplies to the Kurds of northern Iraq, they probably would have been able to defend Sinjar — a town they reportedly abandoned because they ran out of ammunition.
ISIS is, of course, the sworn enemy of the United States. Even Eric Holder finds it frightening. Thus, in protecting the Yazidis, we would also be advancing our interest in combatting some of the world’s worst, most threatening terrorists.
But for Team Obama, R2P is just a catch phrase. It sounds good and is easy to type, but that’s about it. So far, the Yazidis rate a shout out from Jen Psaki — who intones “focusing on towns and villages populated by vulnerable minorities, demonstrates once again that this terrorist organization is a dire threat to all Iraqis, the entire region and the international community” — and nothing more.
As for fighting ISIS, or even providing substantial assistance that would enable others to fight these terrorists, Obama lacks the stomach for it.
Maybe they can come up with a hashtag. It’s very revealing that R2P was good enough to knock out a dictator who was at least cooperating with the West on terrorism, but somehow inapplicable when dealing with the terrorists themselves.
Update (AP): Difficult to watch.
Susan Rice, now the national security adviser, then the UN ambassador, gave an impassioned address in 2009 in which she said: “The Responsibility to Protect—or, as it has come to be known, R2P—represents an important step forward in the long historical struggle to save lives and guard the wellbeing of people endangered by conflict.” This principle formed an important justification for the U.S. intervention along with NATO allies in Libya in 2011 to prevent Muammar Gaddafi from slaughtering opponents of his regime. In 2012 Obama even created an Atrocities Prevention Board to carry out this humanitarian doctrine.
But in practice R2P has been MIA in this White House. Since 2011 more than 170,000 people have been killed in Syria–one ongoing atrocity after another–and the result has been a shrug from the White House which seems more concerned with stopping Israel’s war against Hamas terrorists. Now there is an even more urgent example of precisely the kind of atrocity that should motivate the U.S. and other powers into action. I am referring to the plight of the Yazidis–members of a small religious minority rooted in Zoroastrianism–who have been in the gunsights of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as its black-clad fighters have rolled over northern Iraq. …
The president’s chief foreign policy guru Ben Rhodes grandly proclaims that Obama is busy positioning “the U.S. to lead for the next 10, 20 or 30 years.” His gaze firmly fixed decades in the future, Obama seems to be missing the preventable atrocities–which not only violate the R2P doctrine but also threaten vital American national security interests–that are occurring in the here and now.
Fortunately, the Kurds seem to be relieving the remaining Yazidis:
Peshmerga have reached Yazidis on Mount Sinjar and evacuations underway, UN and KRG officials say
— Loveday Morris (@LovedayM) August 7, 2014
Hopefully they can get them all to the safety of what clearly should be an independent Kurdistan, in the absence of Western engagement.