Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was released from Iraqi prison custody in 2009, shortly after President Obama came to power largely upon a political promise to end U.S. military involvement in Iraq. Baghdadi was captured in February 2004 by U.S. forces and had been involved in extensive radical activities including kidnappings of many individuals and ransom activities. Under Saddam he had been involved in radical Islamic sects, earning him extra attention from the Baathist government before U.S. forces arrived. Since the premature departure of American forces led by President Obama, Baghdadi rose quickly to power among Islamic supremacists. By 2010, he was acknowledged as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. By 2014, his genocidal fantasy with the new moniker of ISIS was already killing 1,000 Iraqis a month in car bombings and various supremacist terrorist acts designed to kill the innocent while attracting more fanatical followers to the idealized task of re-creating the Islamic Caliphate.
ISIS spread across Iraq and Syria and seized U.S. military supplies as it institutionalized savage genocidal policies across the region. Everything from the sale of oil to human organs helped fund this genocidaire’s radical nihilism that was designed to swallow up the entire world if enough allegiance could be gained. Spectacular ‘deaths as text’ filled the internet with videos of people being burned alive, drowned, crucified, thrown off buildings, and an endless quest for more shocking and vivid betrayals of human dignity. ISIS managed to kill 1,200 people outside of its locus of control in Syria and Iraq. Though President Bush predicted in his State of the Union message of 2007 that a premature exit from Iraq would lead to precisely this scenario, the Obama administration continually maintained that one of its most important successes was withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. More than 30,000 people were killed by ISIS — mostly Muslims but many Christians and Yazidis as well. Christians and Yazidis were begrudgingly recognized as specific genocide targets in 2016 by the U.S. State Department, but the Obama administration did not prioritize their escape to places such as the United States. The refusal to protect the Yazidis was in some sense ideological payback for the fierce support Kurdish groups gave to the U.S. invasion of Iraq since 2002 to the present. In fact, President Obama mocked such religious preferences for the Christians and Yazidis as “Un-American” in 2015:
“When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful, That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
Of course, that is precisely the kind of standard that was necessary to protect Jews from Nazi Germany and it was the standard of military action in Bosnia for NATO to protect Muslims in the mid-1990s over the objections of the United Nations. Moreover, Obama’s misinterpretation of humanitarian asylum norms gives preference to perpetrators of genocide who control public discourse. Obama’s words help prevent Christians, who make up ten percent of Syria’s population, from escaping the genocidal hell on earth created by ISIS. Samantha Power, who some say wrote the book on America and genocide, did not undo that policy argued by President Obama in her role as UN Ambassador. She did have time to recently ask the Russian government if they had any “shame” in their efforts to stop ISIS.
There were three times as many deaths in Syria since 2012 as there were in Iraq from 2003 to 2009. Yet, there were no massive marches in the U.S. and Europe against this violence as there were during the Iraq war. The anti-war movement has never been against war. It is against the United States military and the Israeli military. There have been nearly 70,000 deaths in Iraq since 2009 and the abrupt U.S. military withdrawal. These death tolls were largely ignored by the media in an effort to bolster the false perception that the Iraq withdrawal was a success. These deaths lay squarely upon the Obama administration and an intellectual culture that bolsters the idea that American assertiveness in the world is the root of all evil. Terrorism is a rational response to the reality that America hates Muslims. That pathology is believed among some in the U.S. and among the supremacists in Iraq and Syria. The parsing of terrorism data to create domestic ‘lightning is more likely to kill you than terrorism’ is direct jingoistic dehumanization of victims living outside the United States and part of a larger intellectual pathology of suggesting that America is an evil hegemon bent on harming innocent Muslims.
Baghdadi is a genocidaire who envisions killing every person on the planet who disagrees with his Islamic supremacist vision. He never should have been released from the Iraqi prison in 2009 so he could create ISIS. His rhetoric and actions combined with the callous inaction and deception of the Obama administration created conditions of genocide in Iraq and Syria. Obama’s chief expert on genocide Samantha Power, who mocked the U.S. government in her 2002 book, must now gaze upon hundreds of thousands of lives lost in genocidal activities during her leadership. The thesis that American military withdrawal from Iraq would defuse the motives for terrorism has proven terribly false. The current effort to demonize the new immigration orders for Syria that would reprioritize entry and allow genocide victims to escape this age of genocide is diabolical and we ought not be silent.
Ben Voth is an associate professor of Corporate Communication and Public Affairs and Director of Debate at Southern Methodist University. He is the author of The Rhetoric of Genocide: Death as a Text and co-author with Robert Denton of Social Fragmentation and the Decline of American Democracy.