This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"Even Genghis Khan ... didn't do this," says the head of Iraq's largest church. Louis Raphael Sako was referring to how the Islamic State has been persecuting, exiling and killing religious and ethnic minorities as it expands the region under its control.
No wonder President Obama on Thursday authorized airstrikes and airdrops of food to help one of those beleaguered minorities, the Yazidis, many of whom have fled to the stony slopes of Mount Sinjar.
"Today, America is coming to help," Obama said in a late-night statement from the White House.
"We are being slaughtered!" the lone Yazidi representative in the Iraqi parliament declared this week. "We are being exterminated! In the name of humanity, save us!"
The feckless Baghdad government apparently can't save the Yazidi from the ruthless Islamic State. Maybe no one can. But if the U.S. can get food and water to them without inserting troops, and can keep the Islamic State extremists at bay, then the initiative will be justified.
Yes, this nation is not the world's policeman. Nor can it afford to intervene in every humanitarian crisis. We opposed assisting the Baghdad government this summer when it was pleading for U.S. air support in the face of the Islamic extremists, and before that were equally skeptical of strikes in Syria. But the U.S. can't pretend it has no responsibility for the unraveling chaos in northern Iraq.
In fact, if the Obama administration had been willing to supply the Kurds with weapons once it became clear they would have to be a bulwark against the Islamic State, perhaps some of the communities that have fallen recently, such as Sinjar and Qaraquosh, a large Christian town, could have been saved.
The U.S. goal should be narrowly defined: giving minorities a chance to escape and survive, rather than defeating the extremists. The latter goal would require a commitment for which there is little or no American support.