In the wake of Trump’s missile strikes against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime on Thursday, filmmaker and human rights activist Jason Jones has released a video to warn against continuing Obama’s legacy in the Middle East.
Jones created the video during a recent trip to Iraq and Kurdistan, where he visited refugee camps and spoke with members of the region’s most vulnerable minorities. Jones emailed the footage privately to a small group of friends in the U.S., he told Catholic Vote today. But after the U.S. struck Syria, he decided to make it public.
Obama’s Legacy in Iraq
The video, entitled “Obama’s Legacy in Iraq,” begins with a quotation from a local Yezidi: “We don’t want to be refugees in America. We want you to stop destroying our countries. Help us stay safe here in the region.”
“Living in the United States of America, my children are safe,” Jones says to a Middle Eastern man in the video. “…I’m here to try to communicate to the American people what you need as a father.”
“There’s a horrible burden of being a hegemon,” Jones continues, addressing his fellow Americans. “You are responsible not only for the safety of your families, but you are responsible in a real way for the security and safety of other people. And the policies of our nation in a very direct way are responsible for people living in these camps.”
“The United States of America has proved a faithless friend,” Jones says later in the video. “As a human rights activist and filmmaker, I have felt helpless for the past eight years as I have watched the United States walk away from its commitments, abandon its friends, abandon the children and women of the Nineveh Plains.”
But the Trump administration seemed to offer a new chance. “And we cannot squander this chance.” Jones says that everywhere he goes in the Middle East, members of vulnerable minority communities try to be “charitable,” but they eventually say “that the Obama Administration has been a catastrophe. It has been a disaster.”
The Obama Administration “made things worse by pulling U.S. troops from Iraq, leaving a power vacuum which ISIS filled with blood and terror,” Jones argues.
At the end of the video, he asks Republicans to join him in making sure the White House “has accurate information. I am hoping that under the Trump administration we have a foreign policy that puts the most vulnerable communities top-of-mind.”
“What I was hoping to do was just call conservatives to mindfulness and to solidarity with the most vulnerable peoples in the world … with the Chaldeans, with the Assyrians, with the Yezidis,” Jones told Catholic Vote today. “The strong can take care of themselves,” but these people “cannot hire publicists,” he explained. “They cannot hire lobbyists. They cannot fight for our attention.”
So “we have to do an act of will—choose to seek out their interests. That was the point of this video, to say to my fellow Republicans, conservatives, and to people going into the Administration who are my friends, ‘We must have a preferential option for the vulnerable, we must not wait for them to tell us their interests, we must go to them and ask.’”
How Obama Hurt the Middle East’s Most Vulnerable People
Under President Barack Obama, advocates like myself complained bitterly that the U.S. refused to acknowledge the reality of genocidal Jihad in the Middle East virtually until the highly visible ISIS made it politically necessary to do so. American media and political leaders celebrated Syrian jihadists as “freedom fighters” for nearly a decade, and the Obama administration even provided them with arms, which were used against minorities, not just against the Assad regime.
Electing Hillary Clinton in 2016 seemed a sure way to continue U.S. support for what the Democratic Party Platform called the “moderate Syrian opposition,” despite the pleas of minorities who continue to view the Syrian government as the only thing—however imperfect—standing between their communities and genocide.
As I have reported here at Catholic Vote before, Middle Eastern minorities tend to welcome direct, focused attacks on ISIS and other Jihadist groups, but plead urgently with Western powers not to weaken or attack the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
“[It is] terrifying to hear that Assad should be attacked or Assad should be removed,” Assyrian advocate Juliana Taimoorazy told me in an interview in October of 2016. “If we remove Assad, Christians will be slaughtered across the region even more because we don’t know what will fill the vacuum when Assad is removed.
“My grave concern is Turkey,” she continued. “For me, whose family was slaughtered during World War I, seeing what [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] is doing to my people in Turkey, and him wanting Mosul and the entire region in Northern Iraq for Sunni Kurds, and Sunni Arabs and Sunni Turks—it worries me greatly.”
Her fears are common among the most threatened people in the region, and are no doubt at the front of their minds right now, just after U.S. missiles struck Syria. Already, Syrian Bishop Georges Abou Khazen of Aleppo has expressed alarm.
“One thing that baffles, in the face of the U.S. military attack on Syrian territory, is the speed with which it was decided and carried out, without any adequate investigation into the tragic massacre with chemical weapons which took place in Idlib province,” the Bishop said. “This military operation opens new disturbing scenarios for all. I see that even now Erdogan rejoices for this intervention, decided and accomplished without taking any account of voices calling for an independent investigation into what happened in Idlib.”
Trump’s Supporters Hoped to Keep Obama’s Legacy From Ramping Up Under Clinton
Before his election, Trump seemed to get it. “Our current strategy of nation-building and regime change is a proven failure,” presidential candidate Trump said in August of 2016. “We have created the vacuums that allow terrorists to grow and thrive.” Before “the Obama-Clinton Administration took over,” he said, “Libya was stable,” “Syria was under control,” and violence was subsiding in Iraq.
After eight years of Obama’s foreign policy, “Libya is in ruins,” and “Syria is in the midst of a disastrous civil war. ISIS controls large portions of territory. …I also believe that we could find common ground with Russia in the fight against ISIS,” Trump added. “They too have much at stake in the outcome in Syria, and have had their own battles with Islamic terrorism.”
Yesterday, NBC News Correspondent Peter Alexander reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a “new Trump Syria policy: regime change.” Steps are now “underway” for the U.S. to lead an international effort to remove Assad.
Is Trump beginning to reverse course? To carry on Obama’s legacy? He would do better to heed the advice of Jason Jones.
Watch Jason Jones’s video here: