Ethics Institutions Politics

Someone tell the president: Iraqi Christians are dying (COMMENTARY)

Kirsten Powers portrait by Len Spoden Photography, courtesy of Kristen Powers.
Kirsten Powers portrait by Len Spoden Photography, courtesy of Kristen Powers.

Kirsten Powers portrait by Len Spoden Photography, courtesy of Kristen Powers.

(RNS) It’s starting to seem as if the Obama White House operates on a time delay. In the case of Iraq’s religious minorities, the results have been deadly.

On June 10, the barbaric extremists called the Islamic State captured the city of Mosul. By mid-July, they issued an edict to the Christians who remained to “convert, leave or be killed.”

The White House said nothing.

Beginning on July 22, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., took to the House floor six times to plead for attention from the Obama administration as a genocide threatened Iraq.

Not a word from the president.

On July 24, a resolution sponsored by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., “condemning the severe persecution (of) Christians and other ethnic and religious minority communities … in Iraq” was introduced on the floor of the House. It called for the administration to “develop and implement an immediate, coordinated and sustained humanitarian intervention.”


On Aug. 1, the House of Representatives passed a resolution sponsored by Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., calling for protection of religious minorities in Iraq.

It wasn’t until Aug. 5 that the administration acknowledged the crisis in Iraq. It was done in the form of a statement, condemning attacks on religious minorities, by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

By last Thursday (Aug. 7), the largely Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh had fallen to the Islamic State.

Finally, later that night — and two full months after the crisis began — President Obama announced airstrikes in Iraq and for the first time acknowledged that Christians are being driven from the homeland of their faith. But the Christians garnered a passing mention, while the religious minority of Yazidis seems to be what moved the president to act.

An Iraqi Christian leader lamented to me that his people would have to convert to get the administration’s attention.

The Yazidis deserve protection and humanitarian aid, but so do the Christians who number in the hundreds of thousands in Iraq. While the Yazidis received air drops of food and water, nothing has been dropped to the Christians who are homeless and in dire need of food and water. Each day that passes is a matter of life and death.

Why the indifference from the administration?

The disinterest in the suffering of Iraqi Christians has been a bipartisan travesty. During the Bush administration, nearly a million Christians fled Iraq in fear for their lives. Ironically, it was Sen. Barack Obama who sent the Bush State Department a letter in 2007 inquiring about this persecution. Incredibly, the Bush administration denied there was a problem.

Rep. Eshoo, a Chaldean Catholic whose father fled religious persecution in Iran, told me, “This issue has been viewed with a real Western eye and a lack of understanding and appreciation of who is there and how important these religious minorities are. In the case of the Christians, these are the oldest Christians in the world. They represent part of the glue for a diverse society if there is to be one there. This whole issue represents an American value of diversity and protection of minorities.”

Someone please tell the president.

(Kirsten Powers writes weekly for USA TODAY.)


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Kirsten Powers


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  • The Whitehouse administration is being cautious and this is a good thing.

    International politics is a tricky issue and being one of the biggest influences because of ones power, comes with big responsibility.

    If the Whitehouse rushes in and starts intervening in other nations affairs, it risks making the situation far worse and then having to extricate itself from a mess.

    Best proceed with extreme caution and not respond to media hype until all the research is done and all possible outcomes weighed up.

    Otherwise the legacy of the Bush administrations will be back to haunt.

  • The Iraq genocide situation is exactly what America voted for, both in 2008 and 2012. THIS mess, along with the Benghazi disaster and Boko Haram’s successful mass kidnappings and mass rapes, is exactly what Americans chose when they chose Obama. Americans want isolationism.

    Obama did the best job any post-WWII president has ever done, in convincing Americans that our nation should go back to pure isolationism. “America is not the world’s policeman”, isn’t that what the peaceniks say?

    The War on Terrorism was bogus, Obama said. The Iraq War was bogus, Obama said. Gitmo was bogus, Obama said. Bring our troops home, Obama said. Keep our soldiers and our money here at home, Obama said. It’s all Republicans’ fault, Obama said.

    So Americans fully bought into Obama’s Peacenik Sales Pitch. As long as terrorists or enemy nations do not directly attack American shores, both America’s “allies” and America’s enemies know that Obama’s America, under Obama’s watch, will do next to NOTHING to seriously intervene in any situations. Too late to complain about it now.

  • The rest of the world doesn’t want the U.S. to be the worlds policeman!
    Please stay at home and defend the 50 States and don’t go trampling all over the world repeating the mistakes of the British, Spanish and other colonializing nations of bygone eras.

    When the USA reaches Utopia status and all are created and live as equals in “the land of the free”, then consider “assisting” others. Till then, stay at home and sort out the mess in ones own backyard.

  • The European system is predicated on a United States military umbrella. Their extensive social programs of Europe exist largely because they do not have to pay for military security. The more the US withdraws, the more the Europeans will have to spend on defense. This problem will go from chronic to acute as radical Islam continues its encroachment on European liberties.

    Hence the European love/hate relationship with American military power. They want the benefits but resent that ultimate control lies in the hands of American politicians.

  • Kristen:

    Genocide? Are u seriously using that word now and expecting I will still view are a fully thinking human being?

    You’ve been watching american sponsored (your personal taxes) genocide for months in gaza and ukraine. What the frick is wrong with you, that you call one genocide and not the other.

    Oh, I know. Its cause your gov tells you one is ok and one is not. Got it. You suck at critical though….and believe that american gov is unquestioningly morally right in all things.

    I think most.americans believe as you do, so you are super comfortable here. I am not.

  • I don’t think you know Kirsten Powers if you think she is some cheerleader for the American government!

  • I admit, I don’t. I just recognize her call for the world police…backed by the worlds most indebted human collateral.

  • Even though she is not aligned with me politically (she is a strong liberal who served in the Clinton administration), I’ve found her refreshingly honest about the shortcomings of the Obama administration. For example, I take her more seriously than someone like Krauthammer, who is an erudite, neocon partisan.

  • This would be the same U.S. military that turned up in WWII several years late, after it had stripped the British of all it’s assets by selling them the military hardware to defeat the Nazis, which they should have been participating in themselves, but let the rest of the world take a beating and be depleted of their resources first, thereby allowing far more innocent lives to be lost than was necessary.
    And this would be the same U.S. military that invades other countries for their oil reserves and then justifies it with claiming they are out to rid the world of weapons of “mass destruction”, which are never actually found!

    The U.S. only acts in it’s best interests, this is why the Europeans and others are sceptical of the hand of the International Policeman that comes with big strings attached.

    The cold war ended many years ago, the world has moved on. Take the imaginary umbrella back home and use it to shield the U.S. public from the relentless propaganda machine that it is raining upon it.

  • Of course America is going to act in its best interests. That’s incentivized into our democratic structures of government; rare is the politician reelected who puts the interests of a European entity above the interests of his own constituents.

    However, I have no interest in debating the historical questions of World War II and the Cold War. Politically speaking, I am more of an isolationist than not, since a strong interventionist doctrine entails a strong federal government, which I am generally philosophically opposed to. Take that for what you will.

    The reality is that the Europeans consciously made a decision to spend on social programs as opposed to military programs, resting on American power. That is not an “imaginary” umbrella. It is very real, even if you perceive it to be unnecessary, and the current problems of American force projection would be significantly reduced if Europeans had not expected (and pleaded?) that Americans build an enormous military apparatus to protect and maintain the European domestic agenda.

    So Russia is no longer a global threat, but it is certainly a local problem–and “local” in this context does include significant parts of Europe. Other local problems exist to, including unrest in the middle east, which does affect the European sphere in terms of natural resources and the attitudes of the now millions of Muslims living in European countries. European leaders will continue to hope they can count on American military force to aid in local problems. If Europeans want Americans to keep their military out of Europe and other countries, they should elect leaders who will pursue policies aimed at just that–and be willing to cut social services and spend more on local defense.

  • It’s called bullying. When you are one of the big boys in the playground and you throw your weight around it is not democracy!

    European countries have technology and hardware that is equal to and often superior to U.S. equivalents, including military hardware. Whereas the European countries are attempting to solve problems by combining their expertise in the European Union, the U.S. is predominantly stuck in Cold War mode with a policy of dividing and conquering.
    Europe doesn’t need U.S. protection and certainly doesn’t want it. It is only the U.S. who thinks they want it and demands they do. And it is the U.S. public who have been conned by it’s own propaganda machine that is still finding reds under the bed or muslims under missiles.
    Perhaps when the U.S. administrations and followers stop antagonising others they will find that being an older brother in the playground of world politics instead of the bully actually benefits everyone.

    P.s. Thanks for the debate

  • Thanks for the exchange.

    You said:

    Europe doesn’t need U.S. protection and certainly doesn’t want it. It is only the U.S. who thinks they want it and demands they do.

    I’m not so sure. It’s hard to read politicians sometimes, but I get the impression European leaders are still very much interested in US military protection. I understand how European citizens might not be, of course.

    The US population has also shifted to a predominantly non-interventionist attitude, so I’m not sure I’d agree with your perceptions of American propaganda. There is certainly propaganda, but it does not seem to constitute what you think it does.

  • If politicians debated the issues as well as the two learned friends have done, the world would be a better place.
    My compliments on putting the case well from two different perspectives.

    I’m neither European or a U.S. citizen by birth, so shall take the neutral stance and hope the historical mistakes of the past are not forgotten so they will not have to be repeated. Although I suspect that the mistakes of the past will be remembered, but repeated anyway, such is human nature.

  • The big difference is that this situation is one of genocide not economic power or desire for conquest.
    We horribly dropped the ball as the Nazis gassed and incinerated millions while FDR-the hero of today’s Democrats, wouldn’t even bomb the RR tracks to slow down the murders. Are some saying nothing’s changed??? Is it true– even genocide doesn’t move some people.
    Why should the U.S. get involved???? Today the U.S. is the only country with the power and ability to save the Christians and Yazidis from genocide.

  • Even UN people are using the word “genocide” to describe if nothing is done to save the people who are the target of Islamist terrorists. I guess the UN is suddenly under U.S. government control in its statements.

  • To be fair to the Democrats (even though I am not one), wasn’t the information on the concentration camps somewhat unreliable? I could be wrong (it has been some time since I studied the subject, and not all information stays safely stored in the brain), but if this assumption holds true, then I would not fault Roosevelt for taking a more cautious stance toward intervention, especially in light of the relative weakness of American military power during the (start) of that era.

  • It’s a little unclear what the Americans knew about the holocaust during WWII, being a little further from the European theatre of war. The British had a pretty good idea of what was going on and it appears that Churchill also knew that Pearl Harbor was on the Japanese agenda, but didn’t mention it to.
    International politics has always been a messy business and friendships and loyalties traded in the pursuit of self interests.

    As for saving the Christians and Yazidis of Northern Iraq. Back to history. The Israelis successfully flew down to Entebbe and rescued their own people from under the nose of Idi Amin, whereas the U.S. made a terrible mess of rescuing their hostages from Teheran. The moral of the history lesson being, sometimes the little guys can cut it with the big boys and even do a better job.

  • FYI as to FDR and the railroad tracks – Railroad tracks are well known for being useless targets. They are easily and quickly repaired, leading to virtually no delay in the trains. However, thousands of civilians would have been killed by stray bombs that were supposed to hit the tracks, and aircrews would have been lost. So it is not such a simple question.
    In addition, bombing the tracks would have done nothing for those who were already in the camps.

    As a matter of fact, the US did not really get the capability of overflying the camps until the middle of 1944. There was discussion on what to do, and they decided that they would try to bomb an nearby factory, near Buchenwald. They did so on

    “It considered that precision bombing of railway lines was so common by 1944 that the Germans had specialist teams that could repair damage within hours or days. The inmates’ food supplies were assumed to come by rail, and so an unrepaired railway would cause them hardship. Area bombing risked killing too many prisoners.”

    So bombing railways lines was ineffective, and bombing the camps themselves killed the prisoners, and deprived them of the little food they had.

    “From March 1944 onwards, the Allies were in control of the skies over Europe, according to David Wyman. He writes that the 15th U.S. Army Air Force, which was based in Italy, had the range and capability to strike Auschwitz from early May 1944.[28][38]
    General Ira C. Eaker, the American Mediterranean Allied Air Forces Commander, that his airplanes were already bombing nearby Auschwitz,[28] visited the Air Ministry at July 1944. When the request to bomb Auschwitz was put to him, he gave it his full support. He regarded it as something that the American daylight bombers could and should do.[39]
    On August 24, 1944, the U.S. Army Air Forces carried out a bombing operation against a factory adjacent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Despite perfect conditions, 315 prisoners were killed, 525 seriously harmed, and 900 lightly wounded.[40]”

  • Hate America much? Mr. Smyhe thinks on one hand we should have ran headlong into WW2 while he talks of invading counties for oil reserves. We didnt get the oil contracts from any countries we so called “invaded” Weapons of mass destruction? Where do you think Syria got all those chemical weapons from? Why dont you ask the Kurds how many thousand people were gassed by Saddam? You are a typical America hater, Damned if we do damned if we dont. How about those poor people
    ( men women and children) who were buried alive the other night while the Prez and his buddies stuffed their faces with lobster? Should we let the genocide go on? Clinton did! Whats 800,000 Africans worth to anyone? Whats a few thousand slaughtered Christians worth to a Liberation theology leftist? Not much I guess from the paltry response he’s given to the suffering.Talk about equality, well all those fellow human beings are equal now. Equally dead! Yeah, let’s do nothing. Hey I hear the food on Matha’s Vineyard is just the cat’s meow!!! Golf anyone?!

  • The UN…you mean, Useless Nations? I wonder what the genocidal war will look like here. It’s comming folks! Our country has never been so devided since the “useful idiots” elected the professor to run things. Wow he was going to fix everything. Now we have chaos all over the world, riots, a southern invasion and more debt than ever. I could go on and on, but I’d be here all day. Keep electing Democrat folks!

  • During the Bush administration, nearly a million Christians fled Iraq in fear for their lives.

    The population of Iraq in 2003 was about 24 million. The conventional figure which used to be quoted in reference books had it that Christians amounted to 2% of the population. I doubt there were ever a million Christians in Iraq to flee.

  • Why do we do-gooders think we have done our part when we leave our national sins at the feet of the President. Yes, America is culpable. Congress too. Our adventures in the Middle East always cost minorities dearly. Are we just waking up to this reality? A resolution is not enough to repair the disaster that was brought on by our intervention in Iraq. So what do we the people do now? Why doesn’t the Congress have a serious gathering and listen to the wisest voices it can find on this topic and offer to work with the President to assist the Christians and other ethnic minorities who have been displaced by the disintegration of the Middle East? Do we think that the President can do this on his own? We know why this won’t happen. While the world is fracturing we are busy dealing with suggestions that we remove our own President. Reality check time.

  • There seems little doubt that Roosevelt and those closest to him knew exactly what was happening in the concentration-extermination camps. So much so that most articles and histories on this topic by friends and defenders of FDR don’t bother to plead ignorance, but, instead, give excuses for not acting. (camp inmates might be killed, bombed RR tracks easy to repair, other military actions more important, etc.)

  • Today Mitch McConnell said, at a Baptist Church in Western KY, that he blamed President Barack Obama for what he called “the persecution of Christians at home and abroad. He said the recent violence in northern Iraq would not have happened had the president not removed American troops from the region. McConnell evidently has amnesia and has forgotten that we blew Iraq up and that we started this descent into hell. I guess he is suggesting that we start occupying countries without their permission and forever. We have so much extra money for such things you know. Congress just loves to spend and spend these days.

    Today McConnell also played up to Al Mohler’s “persecution myth” and said “that Christians here in the U.S. are a persecuted minority.” He said that “Christian values are threatened in the United States, citing Obama’s federal health care law that sought to require employers to pay for contraception for workers, a decision that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.” From Mohler’s mouth to McConnell’s ear.

    McConnell added, “There almost seems to be a discrimination against people of faith that I don’t like,” McConnell told reporters after the forum. This is his nod to Mohler’s theme song for the future reality of being the “moral minority.”

    I suggest that the Southern Baptists humbly ask the gays (also 3-5% of U.S. population) how to cope with persecution and still keep their dignity. Funny how what goes around comes around.

  • What about Iraqi Muslims? They are victims, too. And there are many more of them than Iraqi Christians.

    What about all the victims of religious warfare over millennia? Even the “holy books” are filled with stories about evil deeds in the name of religion.

    What’s so good about religion?


    Abandon religion.
    Leave these disgusting, divisive WAR MONGERING philosophies
    in a trash heap where they can whither.

    “Execute them” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    “Slay the infidel wherever you find them” – Surah (Quran)
    “Execute unbelievers” – YAHWEH

    “Let’s Save all the lives we can” – ATHEIST HUMANITARIAN

  • Thank you. I have gotten so tried of trying to explain what you eloquently wrote. My father served in WW2 and I have all his papers and memories and Europe (France) had to be secured first. As for the bombing, in the beginning the “little friends” bomber escorts they couldn’t make it past the channel until about 1943 leaving the bombers to their own. Thank you again.

  • By that logic, I should never help my neighbor in anyway until my home and family are in perfect working order.

  • @Art,

    “Let’s save all the lives we can”
    Says, _____________ , ATHEIST HUMANITARIAN

    Warren Buffett
    Bill Gates
    Oskar Schindler
    Paul Newman
    Norman Borlaug
    Chuck Feeney
    George Soros
    Richard Branson
    Jon Huntsman, Sr.
    Gordon More
    Andrew Carnegie
    Johns Hopkins
    Muhammed Yunus
    Wayne Newton
    Jeff Skoll

    and on and ON!