Friday, August 8, 2014

Escalation in Iraq

After an apparent lull, the Islamic State seems to be on the march again, conquering more of Iraq's territory. That means that the expulsion and persecution of Christian communities in northern Iraq is increasing (along with the persecution of Iraq's Yazidi community - an Iraqi minority I had never heard of, but who apparently are Kurdish-speaking adherents of an ancient, long-standing, pre-Islamic syncretistic religion retaining elements of Zoroastrianism). Yesterday, President Obama authorized limited airstrikes against the Islamic State, but that will likely have only a modest effect; and any serious on-the-ground intervention remains as unlikely as ever.

In Middle Eastern terms, perhaps an apt analogy might be what happened to the Armenian Christian community in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Writing today in ncronline, Drew Christiansen invokes the even more familiar World War II analogy: "Not since the Nazis' war on the Jews has there been such complete depredation of a people. They walk into exile alongside other minorities with no vehicles, no baggage, no jewelry, no money, no papers." How apt any such analogies are may be debated. Where such analogies are applicable is in the evident fact that once more there seems to be little that the rest of the world will or can do. Certainly the American and European lack of appetite for serious military intervention in Iraq is by now evident to all.

There are obviously good reasons for that lack of appetite. Recent experience is not encouraging, when it comes to anticipating the long-term consequences of such interventions. And American public opinion remains, I suspect, unwilling setiously to contemplate that prospect. That said,what can be done?  In the absence of effective military intervention, it is hard to see any hope at all for Iraq's persecuted Christians. The farther the Islamic State expands, the more territory it conquers, the farther the Iraqi Christians (and other persecuted minorities) will have to try to flee from their ancestral homes, with all the dangers that such displacement entails. The best that might be hoped for under such circumstances would be that someone (the Kurds?) can forcibly stop the Islamic State's expansion at some point and that sufficient humanitarian aid will be provided by others to assist the displaced Christians to survive this immediate crisis and eventually resettle somewhere where they will be welcome.

Who in the neighborhood has the military strength actually to stop - and hopefully at some point to turn back - the Islamic State? Suffice it to say that military action by someone is the only possible solution. In this at least, Christiansen's World War II analogy applies. As I have often observed, usually the only solution to war crimes is war. What stopped the Nazis' crimes against the Jews and other conquered peoples was the complete defeat of Germany by the Allies, and it is impossible to imagine anything short of that having had any comparable effect. Clearly the only thing likely stop the Islamic State would be a military defeat. so it all always comes back to the same question. Who can do it?

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