It was something of a puzzle, according to the headline in the August 7 New York Times: “Islamic Militants in Iraq Are Widely Loathed, Yet Action to Curb Them Is Elusive.” On the one hand, the article pointed out, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, “is on nearly every nation’s public enemy list, as well as the United Nations’ list of terrorist organizations facing sanctions.” What’s more, ISIS’s barbarism has been publicized and its threat to others is clear. And yet, on the other hand, “international cooperation to check the organization’s rise has so far proved elusive.”
What explains this elusiveness? Why no international action against ISIS?
To help its readers solve the riddle, the Times quoted a couple of experts. The first explained, “You say you don’t like ISIS. What do you do about it?” He went on to elaborate that doing something about ISIS isn’t easy: “There are so many variables here. Any action will have so many unintended consequences.”
So the problem is in the nature of the situation. But is it really? Are there really so many variables, would there really be so many unintended consequences, if the international community acted to save the lives of tens of thousands of peaceful Yazidis—a minority sect of Kurdish extraction who would likely be exterminated by ISIS if captured, because “they are considered by the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State to be devil worshippers and apostates” (as the Washington Post put it). The Yazidis fled Sinjar and other villages as ISIS approached and are now dying of starvation and lack of water on a barren mountaintop in Iraq.
The second expert quoted by the Times had a somewhat different view of why action against ISIS has proved elusive. He noted that “it is not realistic to expect a coherent strategy for confronting ISIS to emerge from the region.” The Times then allowed him to hint at the truth: “The U.S. has the clout and capacity to build partnerships capable of reversing ISIS gains, but seems to lack the necessary vision and will.”
Here’s a translation from Times-speak and the answer to the puzzle: The Obama administration lacks the necessary vision and will. The reason “action is elusive” is that President Obama is committed to a policy of eluding action.
At the end of its article, the Times quotes a third expert: “The United States has plenty of reason to worry . . . and not just because Western recruits to ISIS can come home and wreak havoc.” ISIS’s success, this expert explains, “may have profound implications on the security environment in other countries.” Of course, it’s already having profound implications on the Yazidis, on the Christians of Iraq, and on those Muslims who do not bend a knee to ISIS’s murderous creed.
On the same day last week, the New York Times featured a report from Phnom Penh: “Decades After Khmer Rouge’s Rule, 2 Senior Leaders Are Convicted in Cambodia.” The Times explained,
A court on Thursday found the two most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, which brutalized Cambodia during the 1970s, guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced them to life in prison.
The chief judge, Nil Nonn, said the court found that there had been ‘a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Cambodia’ and that the two former leaders were part of a ‘joint criminal enterprise’ that bore responsibility. They were convicted of murder and extermination, among other crimes. More than 1.7 million people died under Khmer Rouge rule between 1975 and 1979.
Later in the article the Times (surprise!) quoted an expert: “Justice on this scale cannot be done by any trial mechanism, as far as I can see.” He could have put it differently: Injustice on this scale cannot be rectified after the fact—not by a trial or by anything else. If decades from now senior leaders of ISIS are convicted of war crimes, it will be too late for the Yazidis. It will be too late for all the other victims, Muslim and non-Muslim, in the Middle East and beyond, of emboldened jihadists and triumphant terrorists.
Perhaps one day, the United Nations and the “international community” will spend $200 million, as they have in Cambodia, to build a brand-new facility near Sinjar to house war crimes trials for a few aging ISIS perpetrators of genocide. Perhaps some elegantly attired former Obama official and expert on genocide will come out of retirement to preside. She will undoubtedly pronounce just verdicts. But who would dare call it justice?