In the face of genocide for the Yezidi, and, indeed for the Christian communities of Iraq, the Americans have decided to arm the Peshmerga and to provide aid and air-strikes; Her Majesty’s Government has stated that it is committed to humanitarian aid, but has had to abandon at least one flight because of the dangers involved; quite what it means when it says it is committed to humanitarian aid is anyone’s guess. Without what the Americans are doing, at best HMG would be providing the Yezidi on Mt Sinjar with a last supper. If Britain’s military spending was on a par with that of Switzerland, and if it claimed the same world status, then no one would have a problem; but this is not the case. Britain clings to its position on the UN Security Council and spends as befits a Power which wishes to play a world role; yet when it comes to doing so in the case of a genocidal catastrophe, it turns out to be useless. No wonder Mr Cameron will not ask for the House to be recalled.
Some have asked whether the American effort is motivated by humanitarian concern, or by ‘oil’. Apart from burnishing anti-American credentials, the purpose of such a question eludes me. Would one tell those in peril on Mt Sinjar that they could not have aid if the answer to the question was ‘oil’? Of course not, so why the question? Just because the West went to war for the wrong reason last time in Iraq is no reason to refuse to do so for the right reason now. It is not as though the Peshmerga are not willing to do the real hard work and fight ISIS, so there need be no British boots on the ground. Our foreign policy lacks both intelligence and guts. The new Iraqi Prime Minister has said he will look to Iran if he has to for help, and why should he not? The Americans see the danger and have responded in kind. quite why we have a Foreign Office and quite what its advice is are open questions. As Damian Thompson points out ‘religion is the new politics’; perhaps our chaps just can’t keep up?
In the meantime, tens of thousands of Yezidis are dying. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of refugees are taking shelter wherever they can, and the Kurds or Erbil and elsewhere are doing what they can. Both the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Nichols have made appeals for help, and Lord Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of the dangers of ‘genocidal breakdown’. No Christian advocates war lightly, but ISIS are, as their own videos show, savages in the mould of Tamberlane; they use terror as a (very effective) weapon of war. When Pope Francis, who has also called for help for the Iraqis says ‘one cannot make war in God’s name’, I disagree profoundly. We will not stop ISIS by humanitarian aid, we will stop it by force.
This is not a question of theory, or a common-room debate over moral theology. We are in the presence of genocide, and at least one Power realises it and is acting. I do not care what its motives ‘really’ are – oil or aid – I care only that these suffering Iraqis are saved from the horror they are living. Aid to the Church in need have provided some prayer resources here, and also provide a chance to give aid, whilst British subjects can sign a petition here. Aid and prayer are all most of us can offer. Britain, as a great power, could, and should offer more, and won’t. Thank God for the United States of America.