Friday, August 15, 2014

A worthy use of U.S. military power



Last week, President Barack Obama ordered U.S. air bombardment of certain Iraqi positions of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a military organization described as radical Sunni fighters, who have adopted a new name as Islamic State (http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/iraq-turmoil/isis-declares-themselves-islamic-state-n143876), in order to prevent genocide against an ancient ethnic minority within Iraq known as Yazidis. Said to be about 40,000 in number, members of this minority community were reported to have taken refuge on a mountaintop in northern Iraq out of fear of being annihilated by advancing Islamic State warriors, who remind one of Nigeria’s Boko Haram—the Nigerian insurgent and bloodthirsty group that has been visiting sporadic terror upon civilian, police and military targets in various parts of northern Nigeria, including the federal capital of Abuja. News media reports have it that Islamic State has been beheading and torturing people who refused to submit to Islam (http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Obama-orders-strike-against-ISIS-citing-threat-of-genocide-370463).

In announcing this U.S. air bombardment action, President Obama also explained that it has a dual mission: protection of the Yazidis who faced a threat of being massacred by Islamic State and also protection of U.S. citizens and personnel who were based within the affected Kurdish region of Iraq.

We learned later that in addition to preventive air bombardment, the U.S. also dropped food and humanitarian supplies from the air down to the besieged Yazidis in their mountain refuge, while Islamic State warriors were reported to be menacingly advancing towards them. We also learned that this U.S. air bombardment proved effective--that is, it produced the intended result of repelling the approaching Islamic State warriors.

Furthermore, there was news that a fact-finding contingent of U.S. soldiers (numbering about 300 or so) parachuted from the air down to the mountain top location of the Yazdis. Subsequently, this contingent of U.S. soldiers reported back to Washington that the threat to the lives of the fleeing Yazdis had been exaggerated and that a substantial number of them had already been evacuated. Following that report, the Defense Department was credited with saying that “the prospect of having U.S. troops help stage a rescue mission in Iraq appears `far less likely.’" (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/08/13/white-house-rescue-mission/). Reports have it that altogether, there are 864 U.S. troops in Iraq, including 129 military advisers.  Cross-sections of U.S. public opinion worried aloud about “mission creep,” that is, a worry that this minor deployment of noncombatant U.S. troops may grow in size over time. President Obama has, however, repeatedly assured that his engagement in Iraq would remain an air operation without U.S. boots on the ground.

In my view, President Obama acted timely, appropriately and proportionately. Using U.S. military power in order to forestall genocide, anywhere in the world, is a responsible and noble deployment of military might. World history is littered with genocides perpetrated against minority groups pocketed within their own countries. 

Our new age of instantaneous global dissemination of news seems to have given rise to a salutary and dual impact of not only instantly making global humanity aware of catastrophic events in far-away locations, but also consequently spurring or sparking ameliorative actions or movements or grassroots pressures for action from concerned governments and nongovernmental entities. The present case in Iraq is illustrative of this trend. The United Nations, the Pope, and the social media were all in action, in various ways, even before President Obama took the noble step of using U.S. airpower to checkmate Islamic State (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-issues-urgent-appeal-for-global-help-of-iraqi-christians-63507/). 

Any group of people, be it religious, ethnic, racial or what have you, anywhere in the world, which does not want to co-exist with others on this shared space called earth, deserves our collective opprobrium and our collective effort to prevent that group from doing further harm to fellow human beings.

All too often in the past and even in the present, huge crimes against humanity, here and there, were/are overlooked by external powers probably either because the location did not contain strategic economic resources or perhaps out of submission to claims of national sovereignty advanced by the national government of the affected country.  In the present case, it appeared that the Iraqi national government did request for U.S. military assistance before President Obama’s action. This was not like the President’s deployment of U.S. airpower in 2011 that effected regime change in Libya.

Allan D. Cooper’s The Geography of Genocide notes that “States have been engaging in genocide from the beginning of time. But it was only in the twentieth century that the term was created and that an international consensus arose to criminalize it” (p. 1). This international consensus emerged in the form of a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations in 1948. That UN Convention defines genocide as follows:

A. Killing members of the group;
B. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
C. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
D. Imposing measures intended to prevent births with the group; [and]
E. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group (2009, p. 3).

It’s of historic import to note that President Obama’s current action in Iraq is not anything approximating US invasions of Iraq in 1991 and 2003 under Presidents George W. Bush, Sr. and George W. Bush, Jr. In 1991, President Bush, Sr. ordered a U.S. military mission in Iraq (“Operation Desert Storm”) as the leader of a coalition of nations, termed the “coalition of the willing,” in order to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Both internal U.S. public opinion and world opinion at large welcomed that US-led liberationist action of 1991. But then—in the wake of 911—came  the rather controversial 2003 invasion ordered by President George W. Bush, Jr. which proved unpopular both here in the U.S. and within the external global community at large. In both cases, huge numbers of US ground troops were involved. These 1991 and 2003 military expeditions are to be contrasted with the current airstrikes within Iraq authorized by President Obama in order to ward off a clear and present danger to the safety of a religious minority group posed by Islamic State. I commend this action.