There has been a lot of talk about humanitarian interventions over the past week, but much of it has been muddled, misleading or both. Russia has pressed for a “humanitarian mission” to the war zone in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. and its allies argue that Moscow is just using this as a pretext to invade the region. While telling Russia to back off, the Obama administration has stumbled into a new intervention of its own, launching air strikes in northern Iraq against the forces of the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The humanitarian case for American action is clear. Islamic State fighters are in the midst of an avowedly genocidal campaign against the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq.
With up to 40,000 Yazidis trapped on the Sinjar Mountain, Washington risked accusations of permitting an extraordinarily brutal massacre, recalling the Clinton administration’s failure to halt the Rwandan genocide. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people have reportedly managed to escape since the U.S. strikes began, and sending in the warplanes was the right thing to do.