R2P stands for “responsibility to protect.” It’s a concept that Samantha Power, currently our ambassador to the United Nations, has persistently advocated.
It means that responsibility to protect populations from genocide resides not just with the state that governs these populations. Thus, if a state fails to protect a population, or affirmatively threatens it, the responsibility to protect that pupulation becomes an international one.
Power successfully pushed this concept as a basis for U.S. intervention in Libya. Reportedly, she has also urged it as basis for significant U.S. involvement in Syria. If so, she has been unsuccessful.
I don’t believe the U.S. has a responsibility to protect foreign populations or that any concept of “international responsibility” should bind the U.S. However, I believe in a presumption in favor of protection when the foreigners are our allies or those attacking them are our sworn enemies. And that presumption becomes particularly strong when U.S. conduct has put the foreign population in danger.
Which brings me to the Iraqi Yazidis. One of Iraq’s smallest minorities (there are an estimated 500,000 of them), they are of Kurdish descent, and their religion is considered a pre-Islamic sect that draws from Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism.
When ISIS overran the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar this past weekend, the Yazidi minority fled into the surrounding mountains in fear for their lives. Now, thousands of Yazidi families reportedly are trapped in the mountains, in the summer heat, without food, water or medical care. Other Yazidis apparently have already been slaughtered.
In my opinion, the U.S. is responsible for the plight of these families for two reasons. First, if the President Obama had not pulled out of Iraq, it’s unlikely that ISIS would ever have reached the point where it can commit atrocities against this population. Second, if Obama had provided military supplies to the Kurds of northern Iraq, they probably would have been able to defend Sinjar — a town they reportedly abandoned because they ran out of ammunition.
ISIS is, of course, the sworn enemy of the United States. Even Eric Holder finds it frightening. Thus, in protecting the Yazidis, we would also be advancing our interest in combatting some of the world’s worst, most threatening terrorists.
But for Team Obama, R2P is just a catch phrase. It sounds good and is easy to type, but that’s about it. So far, the Yazidis rate a shout out from Jen Psaki — who intones “focusing on towns and villages populated by vulnerable minorities, demonstrates once again that this terrorist organization is a dire threat to all Iraqis, the entire region and the international community” — and nothing more.
As for fighting ISIS, or even providing substantial assistance that would enable others to fight these terrorists, Obama lacks the stomach for it.