In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered U.S. forces–without congressional authorization–to assist NATO in a war against the Gadhafi regime in Libya. The reason for that urgent and extraordinary action was a theory of liberal interventionism called “Responsibility to Protect,” eagerly promoted by then-national security aide Samantha Power, who went on to chair Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board and is now the UN Ambassador.
Essentially, “Responsibility to Protect” justifies American military intervention to prevent a humanitarian disaster, such as eastern Libya was expected to face with the advance of Gadhafi’s forces on Benghazi. A NATO bombing campaign saved Benghazi from Gadhafi and turned the tide of war. (It did not, however, save the city from the terrorists who took it over, after NATO and the U.S. invested little effort in rebuilding the country.)
That was the first and last time the Obama administration used the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. It did not intervene in Syria, despite Obama having drawn a “red line” at the use of chemical weapons. Nor did Obama intervene when Russia invaded the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, though sending weapons to the Ukrainian government might have made Russian president Vladimir Putin think twice about how far he was about to go.
Obama’s failure to carry out the “Responsibility to Protect” might arguably be excused in these circumstances by the fact that intervening in Syria or Ukraine would have been a tough undertaking for a military already in the midst of downsizing.
Americans are weary of old wars and have little desire for new ones, and although we prefer a strong America to the weak one Obama is giving us, we also have little stomach for new adventures.
Those excuses do not hold, however, in Iraq.
When Obama came to office in 2009, the U.S. still had tens of thousands of troops there, and had successfully beaten back Al Qaeda terrorist groups while securing the Iraqi government. Pridefully rejecting any suggestion that the “surge” he opposed had actually worked, Obama set about rushing U.S. troops out of Iraq, breaking a campaign promise to keep a residual force in the country.
We see the results today in the ongoing ethnic cleansing and genocide of Christians and Yezidis in northern Iraq as the Kurdish peshmerga militia–so fearsome in former years–melts away in the face of attacks by the Islamic State (IS), now the most brutal, richest, and well-armed terrorist group the world has ever known.
The Kurds are losing because we have stopped arming them, in deference to Obama’s peculiar political preferences.
The president has shown his concern by issuing statements. Samantha Power, too, issued a statement–stronger than those of the president, but still bowing to his absurd insistence that Iraq choose the leaders he wants it to have before he will help in any way–even simply arming the Kurds or airlifting supplies to the Yezidis.
Of course, Obama could have prevented this had he not pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq precipitously and recklessly.
It bears repeating: whatever the rights or wrongs of the decision to go to war in Iraq, once there, the U.S. not only had a vital strategic asset, but a responsibility to the people of that country. It was clear years ago that the hasty withdrawal favored by candidates Obama and Hillary Clinton would lead to genocide. And so it has.
And those who declared a “Responsibility to Protect” the city of Benghazi are failing to answer a more urgent call.
In studies of the Holocaust, historians divide people into victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. The moral position of bystanders is always an ambivalent one: at what point does failing to intervene actually become culpability in the atrocities?
Arguably, the Obama administration is moving dangerously close to that point–where Obama’s strong and selective desire to remain a bystander in the Middle East is actively encouraging genocide.
The American people tolerated the Iraq surge, because it is not foreign intervention that Americans mind as much as failure. It is Obama’s weakness, more than anything else, that has eroded support for a more active American role abroad. Yet Congress would almost certainly support arming the peshmerga and airlifting supplies to the Yazidiz, using drone strikes to keep the Islamic State marauders at bay.
So where is Obama’s sense of responsibility?