Vernuccio’s View: Why Obama Finally Decided ISIS was Genocidal

Frank VernuccioWhy Obama Finally Decided ISIS was Genocidal

by Frank Vernuccio, Jr. 


Long after it had become painfully obvious to even to the most casual observers, the Obama Administration has decided that ISIS is guilty of genocide.  It has, however, failed to admit that its own incompetence led to the conditions allowing ISIS to become a powerful force.

The timing of Secretary of State Kerry’s announcement, and the deployment of Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to Iraq, reveals much about the mindset of the Administration’s attitude towards foreign affairs, not just in the deeply troubled Middle East but also in its perception of the American role in the world.

Since the end of World War 2, the United States and its NATO partners have been the most powerful alliance on Earth, both politically and diplomatically. That partnership was hugely successful. Another world war was averted, and the Soviet Union was stared down and collapsed without yet another global conflict. A period of extraordinary prosperity was ushered in.  Numerous nations gained independence.

This was not accomplished without major cost, both to the U.S. taxpayer and to those who served and sometimes gave life or limb in the armed forces.  But the results were extraordinary.

Mr. Obama and those who ideologically agree with him nevertheless have been uncomfortable with Washington’s leading role. They disagree with the commitment of many billions of dollars to defense purposes instead of social welfare programs. They are troubled by the American philosophies of capitalism and individual rights. They seek to reduce the influence of the United States.

Reducing America’s international role from one of leadership to just one of many, or in some cases a junior partner, just feels right to them.

The conflict in Iraq had already long lost popular support before Mr. Obama took the oath of office in 2009. However, the continuing post-war presence of American troops served an important purpose.  Iraq’s internal conflicts, never far from the surface, were kept somewhat at bay as the nation moved slowly but significantly towards democracy.  Who can forget the images of Iraqi voters proudly holding up purple thumbs, signifying that they had voted for the first time in a true election? Equally as important, the presence of U.S. troops kept a lid on the influence of the darkest forces in the region.

That salutary effect was eliminated when those troops were wholly withdrawn, the last leaving on December 18, 2011, against the advice of military leaders. In 2015, the Washington Timesreported that many current and former  military believed that  the untimely and complete exit “left the door open for the Islamic State’s land grab…The assessment comes from the Army chief of staff, a former Marine commandant, a former U.S. Central Command chief, a former defense secretary and, privately, from the officer running the war in Iraq against…ISIS.”

Not long after, in 2014, ISIS began to seize territory in Syria and Iraq. Since then, as Secretary Kerry noted on March 17,    ISIS (also known as Daesh) “is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions … Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.…Daesh killed hundreds of Yezidi men and older women in the town of Kocho … Daesh captured and enslaved thousands of Yezidi women and girls – selling them at auction, raping them at will, and destroying the communities in which they had lived for countless generations. We know that in Mosul, Qaraqosh, and elsewhere, Daesh has executed Christians solely because of their faith; that it executed 49 Coptic and Ethiopian Christians in Libya; and that it has also forced Christian women and girls into sexual slavery. We know that Daesh massacred hundreds of Shia Turkmen and Shabaks at Tal Afar and Mosul; besieged and starved the Turkmen town of Amerli; and kidnapped hundreds of Shia Turkmen women, raping many in front of their own families. We know that in areas under its control, Daesh has made a systematic effort to destroy the cultural heritage of ancient communities – destroying Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches; blowing up monasteries and the tombs of prophets; desecrating cemeteries; and in Palmyra, even beheading the 83-year-old scholar who had spent a lifetime preserving antiquities there.”

The American military response—limited use of bombing runs– was little more than the armed equivalent of a pinprick.

The premature American withdrawal emboldened more than just ISIS. Moscow has long coveted a much larger role in the Middle East for several reasons.

Russia’s navy is handicapped by a geography that makes many of its ports ice-bound for a portion of the year, so warm water alternatives are a much desired commodity.  Hence, the importance of its naval base at the Syrian city of Tartus. This goal can also be seen in the recent agreement with Cuba to allow the Kremlin’s naval vessels to dock there.

Syria’s Bashir al-Assad has been a valuable ally for allowing the continuation of Russia’s armed presence in his nation, but the value of a powerful presence in the Middle East doesn’t end there.  Moscow’s economy is dependent on the export of energy.  The ability to influence the Middle Eastern energy economy is a major factor in Putin’s aggressive planning for the future.

Russia’s active use of military force in the Middle East was not aimed at stopping the depredations of ISIS, but on the twin goals of propping up a regime friendly to Moscow’s military goals and demonstrating the growing power of the Russian/Iranian alliance, which has now clearly replaced Western influence in the region. Israel, in particular, has been placed greatly at risk by the rise of Iranian influence in the region and Tehran’s increasingly powerful missile arsenal.

President Putin, however, has used the atrocities committed by ISIS as a justification for his commitment of Russian forces in the region. Secretary Kerry’s long overdue acknowledgement of ISIS’ depredations and the deployment of Marines follow in its wake.  What was unacceptable as an American initiative—particularly the commitment of ground troops—is now acceptable to the White House, so long as it is an act that dovetails with, and serves as a junior partner to, the actions of the Russian/Iranian axis.

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