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WASHINGTON — In 2011, the White House issued a presidential study directive that states: “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.”
At the time, the Obama administration proudly announced that, unlike prior administrations, it wanted to give the U.S. a clear framework for preventing mass killings worldwide. This commitment to genocide prevention helped explain U.S. actions in Libya — but set up President Barack Obama for criticism when he failed to act in Syria.
The president’s promise on mass killings is now being tested once again, as he considers the plight of Iraqi members of the Yazidi religious minority. Thousands of members of this ancient non-Muslim sect are trapped on a mountain without food, water, shelter, or a means of escape. Fighters loyal to the Islamic State, which recently conquered the major town of Sinjar, have surrounded the base of the mountain refuge.
Iraq’s only Yazidi lawmaker has said that hundreds of Yazidis — including 70 children — have already died at the hands of the Islamic State.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest drew disdain from reporters — and hyperbolic headlines in the right-wing media — after failing to clearly state the administration’s position on the Yazidi crisis during a briefing Thursday. He fumbled for more than 30 minutes to describe America’s responsibility to persecuted ethnic and religious minorities.
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