The do-nothing hypocrisy of this President is disgraceful
Realted: Obama: ‘Never again’ will we ignore genocide
Officials say the administration nevertheless is weighing options ranging from military strikes to the delivery of humanitarian aid for ethnic minorities driven from their homes by Islamist militants, according to the Associated Press. The New York Times reported that the deliberations are in response to the tens of thousands of people trapped on a mountaintop in the country’s north after Islamist militants drove them from their homes.
President Obama discussed the crisis with his national security team Thursday morning as the Islamic State (IS), the militant group formerly known as ISIS, made further gains. Airstrikes in particular would mark a significant shift in the U.S. strategy in Iraq.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, though, would not confirm the reports at Thursday’s press briefing and would not say what would trigger a military response.
He said the situation is nearing a “humanitarian catastrophe” and is one “we are deeply concerned about and closely monitoring.” Earnest claimed Obama has demonstrated a willingness to use military force to protect America’s core interests.
But when asked repeatedly by Fox News whether preventing a genocide — as some have warned could happen in northern Iraq — counts as being in America’s core interests, Earnest did not answer directly.
“The reason that is an important question is that we have seen a couple of different situations where there have been urgent conditions where innocent civilians were under extreme duress and at a heightened risk of slaughter,” Earnest said.
Asked the same question twice more, Earnest responded that “each of these situations is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”
Earnest and other administration officials argue there is no American military solution to Iraq’s problems and the country must seek a political solution. But the administration acknowledged that the situation on the ground in northern Iraq is dire.
Sources told The Associated Press the White House is weighing an urgent response, including the delivery of humanitarian aid and strikes. Administration officials note they have been “urgently and directly” working with local officials to coordinate Iraqi airdrops to those in need.
“We’re reviewing what more we can do,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday.
The administration, along with the United Nations, is facing increasing pressure to get more involved to prevent the crisis from worsening.
“Genocide is taking place before our eyes — and on your watch — in Iraq,” Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., wrote in a letter earlier this week to Obama.
France on Thursday called for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis.
Two recent developments have shaken the international community.
Most recently, IS militants seized control Thursday of the country’s largest Christian city, Qaraqoush — reportedly telling its residents to leave, convert or die and sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, according to several priests in northern Iraq.
The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian city, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the group to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.
Last week, the Islamic State also seized the northwestern town of Sinjar, forcing tens of thousands of people from the ancient Yazidi minority to flee into the mountains and the Kurdish region.
According to the U.N., between 35,000 and 50,000 fled to nearby Mount Sinjar and other areas, “reportedly surrounded by ISIS armed elements” and lacking water and other aid.
The Washington Post detailed dire circumstances, reporting Thursday that thousands of families hiding on Mount Sinjar are desperate for help and that Iraqi government airdrops of aid are not sufficient. According to the Post, some water bottles also cracked open during the drop.
Reuters reported Thursday that a rescue is underway, and some of the thousands trapped on the mountain have been brought to safety.
But Wolf, in his letter to the president, said the situation deserves higher-level involvement from the Obama administration.
“Time is running out,” Wolf wrote. He called for a senior official to be appointed as the “lead person” to coordinate government resources, and greater cooperation with NGOs like UNICEF to channel food and other aid to the victims.
Earnest said Tuesday that the U.S. is supporting the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces defending these areas. He said joint operations centers — set up after IS first started making significant gains across the region — in Irbil and Baghdad are sharing information.
Earnest said U.S. and Iraqi officials are discussing a “coordinated approach to the humanitarian situation in that region of the country.”
The highest level statement on the matter has come from Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Power condemned the attacks “that have reportedly led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people, many from vulnerable minority communities, deepening Iraq’s already acute humanitarian crisis.” She urged all parties to allow “safe access” to the U.N. and its partners to deliver aid, including to families stuck on Mount Sinjar.
“The United States is committed to helping the people of Iraq as they confront the security and humanitarian challenges in their fight against [IS],” she said, urging Iraq’s leaders to swiftly form a “new, fully inclusive government.”
But the Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea earlier this week criticized Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for not personally speaking out on the “epic humanitarian and human-rights catastrophe” in this part of Iraq, where Christians and other minorities have lived for hundreds of years.
In a column for National Review, she urged the U.S. to respond to the Kurds’ plea for arms to defend the region, aid resettlement efforts for displaced minorities and try to help warn “local populations of impending attacks.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.