About 15 miles east of the Syrian border, Yezidi, members of a religious sect numbering probably fewer than 1 million worldwide, sit atop the small Iraqi mountain range of Sinjar. They have little food and water, and, without support, many are already dying. (Sean Thomas offers excellent reporting here.)
Hope is also perishing, because the world’s worst fanatics are heading their way: the Islamic State (IS). On its ordained march to purge the world of anyone who doesn’t kneel, IS has little interest in mercy. The Islamic State project is a proud mission of death.
Of course, you may not have heard about any of this. The hashtag hypocrites are intoxicated by Gaza, after all. Still, this catastrophe is very real. And it’s not just the Yezidi who are suffering. The Kurds of northern Iraq and Syria are in an equally desperate position. Alone and outgunned, they face annihilation.
This isn’t complex. As Max Terzano has noted, the U.S. has a clear moral responsibility to support the Kurdish people. But there’s another issue here. In the Middle East, U.S. credibility has plummeted. If America now ignores the Yezidi–Kurdish plight, doing so will broadcast a terrible message: that our friendship means little and that alternative allies — Iran, for example — might be a better bet. In essence, not only will our humanitarian reputation suffer a hammer blow, so will our broader strategic interests.
Fortunately, we have good options. With the U.S. Air Force’s 728th Air Mobility Squadron at Incirlik Air Force Base, Turkey (a few hundred miles from Sinjar), America has a preexisting infrastructure to support airdrop missions into northern Iraq. In addition, squadrons from the USS George H. W. Bush carrier group are currently supporting intelligence operations over Iraq. Those squadrons could also be used for strike operations against IS, pressuring the group’s rapid-maneuver warfare and degrading its heavy-weapons assets.
Through air support to Kurdish forces and the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian supplies to the Yezidi, the U.S. could avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Moreover, as the U.S. Navy’s unimpeded air operations in Iraq illustrate, the U.S. has air superiority and the risks of this operation would be low.
This being said, I recognize that Americans have very little appetite for new operations. It’s also deeply unfair that this responsibility falls on America: The U.N. is a pathetic joke, and European defense policy is an equal disgrace. Beyond America, international humanitarianism is nothing more than dinner-party rhetoric.
Still, the world is what it is. The Middle East is a political ecosystem of immense complexity, shaped by a multitude of actors. That makes hesitancy understandable. Yet America must understand that our physical separation from the world won’t shelter us from its problems. We must accept that our deliberate neglect of strategic purpose only invites alternate strategic purpose: the purpose of IS and its opposite fanatics in Iran. And we must realize that those threats aren’t static. Uncontested, these political cancers will spread toward us.
To be sure, we cannot solve every problem. But today, in Iraq, we should provide support to friends facing massacre.