The US has once again proved that it is more alert to the atrocities of some rather than others. American jets are bombing ISIS militants in Iraq after US President Barack Obama authorised airstrikes against the jihadi groups making rapid progress in Kurdish areas and threatening major towns such as Erbil. Mr Obama also signed off on airstrikes and humanitarian relief to protect and assist thousands of religious minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, who have been targeted by the ISIS forces. Washington’s response was shaped by the presence of US diplomats and military personnel stationed in Erbil to advise Iraqi forces and the outcry over the plight of thousands who fled as the ISIS took over cities. According to the UN, some 40,000 people, mostly Yazidis, took refuge on nine locations on Mount Sinjar and were stranded without food, water and shelter. The US’ action was in response to the brutalities that the ISIS has been subjecting the Yazidis to recently with some 500 people being reportedly killed over the last week.
The US’ attempt to halt the progress of the ISIS should help stem atrocities in the short term since the jihadis have threatened minorities, distributing leaflets asking them to convert to Islam or face death by the thousands. It remains to be seen if the US airstrikes and humanitarian efforts will be sustained enough to deter the ISIS’s march in the months ahead and address the refugee crisis in Iraq — but Washington’s action to prevent the loss of civilian lives in Iraq is certainly welcome. However, Mr Obama’s relatively swift decision on Iraq prompts two legitimate questions. Why was the US not able to do more when Israel was repeatedly pummelling Gaza over the last month, leaving more than 1,800 Palestinians dead, destroying thousands of homes and displacing nearly half a million civilians? Washington strongly condemned Israel’s bombing of UN schools but was largely silent on Tel Aviv targeting locality after locality during a wholly disproportionate exchange of fire with Hamas, which was conducting regular but largely ineffective rocket attacks.
American weakness in the face of Israeli intransigence is one of the great conundrums of world politics. Many have a simple explanation, tracing the silence of the US political class to the two-yearly Congressional election cycle that forces lawmakers to pander to pro-Israeli lobby groups. The US action in Iraq also prompts another uncomfortable question for other world powers. Why should Washington take the lead on humanitarian catastrophes despite its deeply hypocritical record over the years?