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President Obama: “America is coming to help”

President Obama made a statement Thursday evening about the humanitarian crisis in Iraq:

Selected quotes:

Today I authorized two operations in Iraq — targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.  […]

To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.  We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad.  We’re also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL.

Second, at the request of the Iraqi government — we’ve begun operations to help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain.  As ISIL has marched across Iraq, it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis.  And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect.  Countless Iraqis have been displaced.  And chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women.

ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.  

I’ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world.  So let me be clear about why we must act, and act now.  When we face a situation like we do on that mountain — with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case, a request from the Iraqi government — and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.  We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide.  That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.

I’ve, therefore, authorized targeted airstrikes, if necessary, to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there.  Already, American aircraft have begun conducting humanitarian airdrops of food and water to help these desperate men, women and children survive.  Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, “There is no one coming to help.”  Well today, America is coming to help.  We’re also consulting with other countries — and the United Nations — who have called for action to address this humanitarian crisis.

[…]

I know that many of you are rightly concerned about any American military action in Iraq, even limited strikes like these.  I understand that.  I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home, and that’s what we’ve done.  As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq.  And so even as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.  The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.

More on the humanitarian crisis and the president’s statement …

The president on the use of military action

My fellow Americans, the world is confronted by many challenges.  And while America has never been able to right every wrong, America has made the world a more secure and prosperous place.  And our leadership is necessary to underwrite the global security and prosperity that our children and our grandchildren will depend upon.  We do so by adhering to a set of core principles.  We do whatever is necessary to protect our people.  We support our allies when they’re in danger.  We lead coalitions of countries to uphold international norms.  And we strive to stay true to the fundamental values — the desire to live with basic freedom and dignity — that is common to human beings wherever they are.  That’s why people all over the world look to the United States of America to lead.  And that’s why we do it.

So let me close by assuring you that there is no decision that I take more seriously than the use of military force.  Over the last several years, we have brought the vast majority of our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.  And I’ve been careful to resist calls to turn time and again to our military, because America has other tools in our arsenal than our military.  We can also lead with the power of our diplomacy, our economy, and our ideals.

But when the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action.  That’s my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief.  And when many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out, and we have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action. That is our responsibility as Americans.  That’s a hallmark of American leadership.  That’s who we are.

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This Ancient Religion Is Being Threatened With Extermination In Iraq

They represent the vast majority of a religion that rose alongside the world’s most popular faiths. Now, members of the Yazidi are cut off from the rest of the world, forced to choose between death at the hands of the militants threatening their families and the elements that have already ended the lives of dozens of children.

“There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads,” Marzio Babille, the Iraq representative for UNICEF, told the Washington Post. The situation that drove the Yazidi to the protection of Mount Sinjar is one that most analysts had hoped would not come to pass. Over the weekend, members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) managed to take the town of Sinjar from the Kurdish forces who held it. “There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State,” Babille continued. “It’s a disaster, a total disaster.” […]

According to the New Yorker’s George Packer, the Obama administration may be “contemplating an airlift, co√∂rdinated with the United Nations, of humanitarian supplies by C-130 transport planes” to aid the Yazidis. While horrifying, the plight of the Yazidis makes up just part of the massive refugee crisis playing out in both Iraq and Syria as a result of the conflicts on both sides of the ever evaporating border. According to the United Nations, at least 1.2 million Iraqis are internally displaced as a result of the current fighting.

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Why ISIS Blew Up Jonah’s Tomb, And Why It Might Backfire

Last week, members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the ruthless militant group currently marauding through Iraq, reportedly blew up the tomb of the Prophet Yunus. The burial site of Yunus, commonly known to many Christians as the biblical figure Jonah, was located in the modern-day city of Mosul (once the biblical city of Nineveh), and was seen by many archeologists and religious scholars as an ancient – and precious – religious artifact. Now, reports indicate, it is little more than rubble. […]

But the destruction of Jonah’s shrine is actually a bit more complicated than singling out one religious tradition. For starters, the Jonah story isn’t exclusive to Christianity. Jews also revere the prophet, as do Muslims: there is an entire book of the Qur’an, aptly titled “Jonah,” dedicated to the prophet, and the Muslim prophet Muhammad is said to have declared, “One should not say that I am better than Jonah.” […]

ISIS’s attack on multiple religions might have more wide-ranging impact than they expect – especially among their fellow Muslims. When ISIS destroyed the tomb, they reportedly forgot to remove copies of the Qur’an and other holy books from the building. Locals found the damaged books while walking through the rubble, a move so offensive to Muslims that it has allegedly sparked what could be the early stages of localized resistance against ISIS within Mosul.

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22 comments

  1. I know that many of you are rightly concerned about any American military action in Iraq, even limited strikes like these.

    He knows that the American people do not want to engage in another ground war in Iraq, really anywhere. And to military “experts” saying that the president “boxed himself in” by declaring “no boots on the ground”? That isn’t boxing himself in … that is respecting the feelings of the American people and those who elected him and who he represents. Dick “Dick” Cheney said “So?” when told that the American people did not support the war in Iraq; President Obama calls our concern right and will consider it as he acts in our name.

  2. Portlaw

    the best days for those with whom we share the planet. I think that with the way things are, Obama has probably made the best decision. However, the events are very depressing.

  3. Never Can Say Goodbye

    With which long-term moral debt of the extended Bush family would you like to discuss first? The one that Junior locked the country into by kicking over the hornet’s nest in order to drain the swamp, or the one Poppy ran up by selling the Kurds down the river in 1991? I know, I know, there’s a lot more that went into the president’s decision to drop humanitarian aid to the Yazidi people stuck on a mountain in northern Iraq, and into the president’s decision to drop a couple of 500-pound bombs on the genocidal barbarians who have surrounded the mountain with the intent of killing everybody on it. But if there’s one family that best symbolizes the historic price paid by the people of Iraq by a century of Western bungling in that part of the world, it’s the Habsburgs Of Kennebunkport. Or, I guess, you can blame the Treaty Of Versailles and/or the League of Nations for helping to create the country of Iraq in the first place and guaranteeing that, one day, its basic ethnic instability would erupt into savagery. See also: Yugoslavia. The Great Game never was so Great for the people whom expiring empires used as chips. I would be surprised if, in five years, there’s even a country called Iraq any more.

    He has no patience for the media and their military experts and armchair quarterbacking:

    Sooner or later, every nation has an obligation to self-defense. So, when Andrea Mitchell meeps away on TV that Jordan and Saudi Arabia are reluctant to provide military aid in a crisis right in their own neighborhood because the president won’t “lead,” she’s letting those two countries off a pretty enormous hook. If “our allies” are threatened, as I keep hearing over and over, then “our allies” need to fking do something.

    He belittles the “Fred and Ginger of Foreign Policy” (McCain and Graham) and concludes:

    The whole thing is a damnable mess and there is no good solution. This is murderous religious fanaticism run amok, and the modern mind occasionally fails to grasp what that’s all about, since it seems to the modern mind to be a relic of distant times. And yet, here it is again. […]

    There is absolutely no indication that any other country will step up, and that’s not just because of the president’s alleged lack of “leadership.” It’s because America’s credibility in that part of the world was drained to dry over the last half-century. Which, I guess, brings us back to the question at the beginning of this post. The Great Game is no fun at all, if you happen to be one of the chips.

  4. ThinkProgress Why The U.S. Is Acting To Prevent Atrocities In Iraq, Ignoring Others

    The dismay that Syrians are feeling are likely similar to other groups around the world – from the Hazara in Afghanistan to the Rohingya in Myanmar – who have yearned for intervention from the international community, only to see another besieged group leapfrog over them in American priority. In the case of Iraq, though, there are a number of reasons why the White House finds it easier to launch a humanitarian intervention there than elsewhere:

    1. The Iraqis invited us.

    2. Minorities have been targeted specifically.

    3. Congress doesn’t seem to be fighting back.

    4. Americans are in danger.

  5. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)

    “I support the President’s humanitarian response to help the Iraqi Yazidis and Christians who have been ruthlessly attacked by ISIL. The President should also protect American diplomatic and military personal in Irbil. Like many Americans, I am wary of mission creep and the possibility of being further embroiled in a situation that has no military solution; American military intervention in Iraq should be limited in scope and duration. Moreover, American engagement in Iraq should involve the international community – all nations have the responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

  6. From the White House

    In this week’s address, the President detailed why he authorized two operations in Iraq – targeted military strikes to protect Americans serving in Iraq and humanitarian airdrops of food and water to help Iraqi civilians trapped on a mountain by terrorists. The President saluted America’s brave men and women in uniform for protecting our fellow Americans and helping to save the lives of innocent people. The President also made clear that the United States will not be dragged into another war in Iraq – that American combat troops will not return – because there is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.

    Transcript

  7. Peter Beinart, The Atlantic: America’s Moral Obligations in Iraq

    Which politician uttered the following words: “Do we sit on the sidelines and watch an entire people be slaughtered or do we marshal military forces and move in quietly to put an end to it?” John McCain? Joe Lieberman? Scoop Jackson? Wrong. The speaker was George McGovern, in August 1978.

    McGovern is best known for his landslide defeat in the presidential election of 1972 and his impassioned opposition to the Vietnam War. Six years later, when he became the first senator to advocate U.S. military intervention next door in Cambodia, to stop the Khmer Rouge’s ghastly slaughter of between 1 and 3 million people, hawks were incredulous. The Wall Street Journal called McGovern’s stance “mind-boggling.” But as Samantha Power explains in A Problem from Hell, McGovern saw no contradiction in his positions. Vietnam, in his mind, had been a profoundly misguided application of American might to prevent a communist-led independence movement from liberating its country from Western control. Cambodia was genocide. In his view, the U.S. had a particular responsibility to prevent the latter because its war in Vietnam had helped cause the trauma and instability on which the Khmer Rouge seized.

  8. Portlaw

    article on an interview that Thomas Friedman had with President Obama. In the interview, Obama outlined the Obama Doctrine. It’s worth the read. But what was also interesting, to me, was how he related foreign policy dead ends with domestic ones.

    At the end of the day, the president mused, the biggest threat to America – the only force that can really weaken us – is us. We have so many things going for us right now as a country – from new energy resources to innovation to a growing economy – but, he said, we will never realize our full potential unless our two parties adopt the same outlook that we’re asking of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds or Israelis and Palestinians: No victor, no vanquished and work together.

    He continued

    “Our politics are dysfunctional,” said the president, and we should heed the terrible divisions in the Middle East as a “warning to us: societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions. And the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.



    As I said, the article is long and it is accompanied by a full video of the interview. Am not quite sure why Friedman got the interview, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08

  9. Transcript

    Now, even as we deal with these immediate situations, we continue to pursue a broader strategy in Iraq. We will protect our American citizens in Iraq, whether they’re diplomats, civilians or military. If these terrorists threaten our facilities or our personnel, we will take action to protect our people.

    We will continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces as they battle these terrorists, so that the terrorists cannot establish a permanent safe haven.

    We will continue to work with the international community to deal with the growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Even as our attention is focused on preventing an act of genocide and helping the men and women and children on the mountain, countless Iraqis have been driven or fled from their homes, including many Christians.

  10. An Entire Religion Faces Extinction For Something It Doesn’t Believe

    “Unlike Christians, [Yazidis are] not even given the option of paying a tax to live under [ISIS’] protection,” Hayder al-Khoei, an associate fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Program, told TIME.com. “[ISIS] believes they are ‘devil worshippers’ who must either be slaughtered or convert to Islam.”[…]

    Yazidis have long disputed the claim of devil worship as a misconception. To be sure, Yazidism is an ancient religion, and shares many rituals, practices, and theological beliefs with Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism. But these commonalities can be misleading, especially given that the Yazidi tradition is actually older than both Christianity and Islam. Yazidis, for instance, are monotheistic and believe that God created the world, but also that our planet is under the care of seven Angels. Chief among these angels is Melek Taus, or the “Peacock Angel,” a powerful figure in Yazidism who, like the Christian/Muslim Lucifer, refused to bow to the first man – Adam – and was banished to a fiery punishment by God.

    Unlike the Satan figure in most versions of Christianity and Islam (excluding some brands of Sufism), Melek Taus is thought to have refused to bow not out of pride, but out of love for God alone.

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