September 26, 2017
It didn't take long for the Trump administration to call ISIS's slaughter of Christians "genocide." But it has taken surprisingly long for it to do something about it. The White House may have changed, but the situation for thousands of persecuted men and women of faith in the Middle East hasn't changed much. Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, writes in a column for the Wall Street Journal that Secretary Rex Tillerson's State Department is "making the situation worse [for Christians] by continuing Obama policies that effectively exclude these non-Muslims from U.S. aid in Iraq."
"This is really astonishing," she points out, "because Secretary Tillerson has confirmed that these refugees face genocide." Yet, Shea explains, most of the $250 million earmarked in reconstruction projects "such as restoring water and power," have barely gotten off the ground – especially in areas dominated by Christians. Making matters worse, most of the U.S. aid flows through the U.N., an Obama tradition that continues now.
"One local church authority told me the U.N. reports 'grossly overstate the quality and substance of the actual work' and their projects' influence is 'minimal or nonexistent.' A representative from the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, a unified church group, told me earlier this month that the only major projects under way are its own," Shea writes. As a result, "Far lower percentages of Christians and Yazidis are returning from displacement to their homes in the devastated Nineveh Plains and Sinjar, respectively, compared with the larger religious groups in Tikrit, Fallujah and Mosul."
Over the past few months, Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ben Sasse (R-Nebr.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) have been making noise at the State Department, complaining that the agency isn't doing enough to help Christians and other religious minorities. No one seems to understand why the administration hasn't spent the money that's been earmarked – or why it insists on funneling the money through a U.N. that has done little to ease Christians' plight. "The U.S. should aid them directly," says Rev. Benedict Kiely, who helps men and women of faith on the ground in the Middle East. These are people, he points out, who didn't go to U.N. camps because ISIS had infiltrated them. "All the assistance has been coming from church organizations."
As usual, the decisions are being made by Obama holdovers, Shea warns. If President Trump would intervene, there's plenty he could do to make sure U.S. aid is reaching Iraq's most vulnerable. "First, he can direct his administration to address their humanitarian and stabilization needs," Shea explains. "This should include dropping the U.N. as a pass-through for U.S. aid. He can also appoint an interagency coordinator to ensure that bureaucratic hurdles don't interfere with getting aid to all groups. These relatively small tweaks would help preserve the region's religious minorities."
It's time for the State Department to follow through on its commitment to help these families, who are being hunted down simply for believing in Jesus Christ. The least America can do is ensure that its money is not only being used -- but used effectively.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.