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Obama Administration Declares ISIS Commits Genocide: Too Little, Too Late?

After it’s too late to do much, the Obama administration reluctantly declares ISIS has been committing genocide against Middle Eastern minority groups.


Succumbing to pressure from the House and with overwhelming evidence nipping at its heels, the Obama administration finally declared yesterday what the European Union had already: ISIS is committing genocide against religious minorities including Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

Unfortunately, in addition to delaying, the administration’s recognition proves once again they are an unreliable partner in foreign affairs, weak in the face of proven crimes the “JV team” committed, and posture aimlessly and shamelessly.

Last But Not Least

ISIS has been systematically persecuting and murdering religious minorities in Iraq and Syria since at least 2014. Congress pressured Obama to consider this issue when he signed the omnibus bill on December 18, 2015, and he essentially agreed to deal with the issue in three months. According to the text of the bill:

Not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State . . . shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees an evaluation of the persecution of, including attacks against, Christians and people of other religions in the Middle East by violent Islamic extremists . . . , including whether [the] situation constitutes mass atrocities or genocide (as defined in section 1091 of title 18, United States Code).

The bill also said the State Department must provide “a detailed description of any proposed atrocities prevention response.”

Fearing the Obama administration would simply push the three-month deadline further, last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed an unanimous, bipartisan resolution condemning ISIS for committing genocide.

In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Da’esh [ISIS] is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions in what it says, what it believes and what it does.” In an unusual moment of transparency—which only adds to the confusion about the administration’s inconsistent actions regarding genocide—Kerry went to great lengths to describe the atrocities:

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’s actions are animated by an extreme and intolerant ideology that castigates Yezidis as, quote, ‘pagans’ and ‘devil-worshippers,’ and we know that Daesh has threatened Christians by saying that it will, quote, ‘conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women.’

Inconsistent at Best, Cowardly at Worst

Kerry’s horrific descriptions, of which I’ve only listed a few, raise the question: If the administration knew this was happening, why didn’t they act—or “declare” anything—before now? Further, and infinitely more importantly, now that the administration acknowledges this, will they do anything to stop it?

With ample, convincing evidence the situations in Iraq and Syria are indeed horrifying, the administration yawns.

The questions are as hard to answer as they are to ask. The United States overlooked or was unaware of the recent genocides in Cambodia, Srebrenica, and Rwanda. In 2011, Samantha Power, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, encouraged the United States to intervene in Libya to prevent another genocide much like Srebrenica, despite lack of hard evidence that such a genocide was occurring. That did not go well.

Yet now, with ample, convincing evidence the situations in Iraq and Syria are indeed horrifying, the administration yawns, shrugs its shoulders, and only when forced comments on the situation at the last moment possible. It’s like a forced “sorry” from your spouse—you’d rather not have a “sorry” at all, except lives, whole cultures and peoples, and global religious freedom are at stake. If ever there was a time for the administration to stand firm on principle and show some consistency, perhaps the killing of hundreds of thousands of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria might be the place to start?

Will Anything Be Done?

In a statement, Kerry said he is “neither judge, nor prosecutor, nor jury with respect to the allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing by specific persons,” and his findings don’t obligate the United States to take any action against ISIS militants. He did say the world should do “what is essential is to stop them.”

Part of the problem is the Western church. Aside from Pope Francis, few have acknowledged what’s happening there.

The genocide declaration is important because the United States is a signatory to a 1948 U.N. convention that requires signatories to punish nations or groups guilty of genocide. If we know anything about our administration, it’s that they want to prosecute a real war against ISIS like they want to make sure Hillary Clinton knew how to e-mail classified documents appropriately.

It’s obvious the administration was deliberately refusing to make a declaration, which in itself communicated that genocide isn’t happening. They just didn’t want to be held accountable for that. Instead, they wanted to pretend they were merely deliberating.

Former congressman and fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative Frank Wolf spoke to me at length this week about this issue. Wolf told me the delayed response itself was a problem: “The fact that the EU has declared this genocide and we haven’t is embarrassing.”

He said part of the problem is the Western church. Aside from Pope Francis, few have acknowledged what’s happening there. He said it’s “important to call it genocide to honor the dead, to better aid the escape of anyone living there, to help those who want to stay with further assistance and because then anyone who goes and joins ISIS will be guilty of genocide before the world court.”

Wolf hopes the administration does the right thing and aids the military forces in place in Iraq and Syria fighting ISIS and boosts the resources of national guard equivalents in villages there as well. He reminded me, as our conversation ended, of something the administration would do well not to forget—the words of the German pastor and spy Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”