President Obama has an amazing ability to make Jimmy Carter’s foreign policies look good.
Opposition to imperfect allies and support of radical Islamists has resulted in the almost-extinction of religious freedom for religious minorities – from the Copts in Egypt to the defenseless women and children who were slaughtered in Homs, Syria – in the Middle East.
Another example is the devolving situation in Iraq. President Obama was so committed to fulfilling an arbitrary campaign promise to get our troops out of Iraq that he ignored the advice of his senior military officials about the consequences of establishing a firm withdrawal date and about how long it might take before Iraq was ready to manage the situation on their own. As a result, Al-Qa’ida is resurgent, Iran’s influence is greater than ever, religious tensions between Sunni and Shi’a are increasing, the existential threat facing Iraq’s indigenous minority communities has never been greater, and our ability to affect the situation there is weaker now. Recent coordinated car bomb attacks are just the latest in a string of such events since the start of the new year, and they portend many more violent assaults to come.
The departure of our military forces has once again left a security vacuum that is bound to be filled by someone, and all those with the means to vie for that space will do so, whether Sunni insurgents, terrorists like Al Qa’ida, security forces controlled by the ruling Shi’a political establishment, and in parts of the country even Kurdish Peshmerga. These machinations undermine institutionalizing the rule of law, protecting minority rights, or developing the economy and infrastructure, let alone advancing American interests in that country and the region.
The most vulnerable people in this situation also happen to be the ones most aligned with our values and interests. These are Iraq’s besieged Christians – the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs and Armenian Orthodox communities. The role their faith has played in developing their worldview is far more in keeping with America’s values than any other constituency in the country or the region. Moreover, because these communities have an ethic that places a premium on education, entrepreneurship, and peaceful co-existence and respect for others, they have constituted a disproportionately large part of the upper-middle class, they have historically contributed far more to the country’s economy than their numbers would suggest, and they have been the most trusted elements of Iraqi society. They also have a much greater respect for the value of the rule of law, they were the ones who came along side our military, diplomats, and contractors to provide translation services and cultural advice.
With the departure of our forces and the recent announcement of the Obama Administration that we will also be reducing our embassy staff by 50 percent because it is now too dangerous for our diplomats there we are effectively abandoning both Iraq and our investment there as well as the communities who risked the most to help us in that effort. What is more, walking away like this also sends messages to other players in the region. It signals to potential allies in the future that we are not dependable. It signals to terrorists that if they just lay low, they can wait us out. It signals to the world that we no longer have the resolve to see a situation through to the end – that we can’t finish what we started.
We need all the help we can get in that part of the world, and Iraq’s Christians are the ones most inclined to provide that help, but not if doing so is only going to increase the prospect of their genocidal annihilation.
Accordingly, we need a comprehensive policy aimed at preserving these communities in Iraq. We need to focus on helping Iraqis create the conditions that incentivize staying in Iraq and making there a better future for themselves. The last thing we want is for them to abandon the land their ancestors have occupied for nearly 7,000 years,forsake the culture they have preserved in that volatile region for all these millennia, and deprive the country, the region, and the world of the positive contributions they could still make if only some space was created for them in Iraqi society. These people – who are all but canaries in a coal mine – represent hope for a better future for a pluralistic Iraqi society.
First, they need security. By “security,” though, I mean more than just safety from terrorist and insurgent attacks. I mean they need the means to protect themselves and their own communities so they do not have to depend on political actors whose interests are not necessarily aligned with the needs of their own communities. They should not be subjected to political shakedowns and corrupt political machinations.
Second, they need political empowerment. They have the right to some degree of self-determination and to have a say in how their local communities should be governed. It is wrong for them to be treated as a political football, constantly crushed between manipulative forces that surround them.
Third, they need economic development in the region where they now find themselves. Having been forced off their ancestral lands in the last century, they reestablished themselves in the cities such as Baghdad and Basra. In the aftermath of the second Gulf War, though, they have had to seek refuge back in the North again. Yet this region was not developed very well under Saddam’s regime, and today’s Iraqi Christians are disproportionately of the urban professional class rather than farmers.
It is time that we stand with those who stood with us over the last 8 years. We must not abandon them. I will stand with those who stand for freedom of religion and conscience and against violent jihadism and persecution of religious minorities in Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere.