John Kerry, Barack Obama at Odds on ISIS 'Genocide' Declaration?

President Barack Obama talks with Secretary of State John Kerry in the Oval Office, Nov. 1, 2013.
President Barack Obama talks with Secretary of State John Kerry in the Oval Office, Nov. 1, 2013. | (Photo: White House/Pete Souza)

Sec. of State John Kerry's declaration that the Islamic State is committing genocide may have been at odds with President Barack Obama.

Kerry surprised some on Thursday when he issued the declaration that the Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians and other minority groups, despite the fact that the United States State Department said the night before that he would not meet the March 17 deadline.

Although State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement late Wednesday saying that Kerry would not reach a genocide decision before the Thursday deadline set by Congress because more legal review was needed, news broke early in the morning on Thursday that Kerry was going to, in fact, declare that IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL) is committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims and other religious groups in areas under its control.

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It wasn't just Toner's statement on Wednesday that led people to believe that Kerry would not meet the deadline, as Obama administration officials also warned on Monday that a legal investigation was still under review and that Kerry would likely not meet the deadline.

Around 9 a.m. Thursday, Kerry proceeded with his press conference, in which he proclaimed that "in my judgment," IS is not only committing genocide but is "genocide by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions."

In an interview with The Christian Post, evangelical author and humanitarian Johnnie Moore reflected that it seems as though Kerry stood against his State Department and Obama administration advisors in making the genocide decision.

"I am encouraged by the fact that Secretary Kerry, in what appears to be on his own initiative based upon what has been said [in the media] and various sources, made this decision," Moore, a former Liberty University vice president, said. "His decision was a controversial decision and is not totally supported within the State Department but he had the courage to make the decision, which I totally commend."

"I am sure some people in the White House and some people in the State Department would have rather John Kerry not made the decision he made," Moore continued. "Although, there may be people in the White House and the State Department who have changed their opinion — as indicated as late as yesterday afternoon when the State Department was saying that the deadline would be missed and that the secretary was taking a measured approach."

In response to the news that Kerry was going to indeed declare genocide, an unnamed State Department official, who was not cleared to speak on the matter, told the Associated Press that the declaration "will not obligate the United States to take additional action against IS militants."

Although the genocide declaration will not legally require additional action from the administration, Moore argues that a genocide declaration provides the nation with a moral duty to not only take action to stop the genocide but to provide more for those who have been displaced.

"I am discouraged that the official State Department policy and response to that decision is that they are not required to take any specific action," Moore said. "If you say something is a genocide, I believe whatever the varying legal interpretations are, there is a moral imperative that you stand up on behalf of the victims of this genocide."

Moore and other human rights activists, like genocide scholar Gregory Stanton, believe that the State Department and the Obama administration were so hesitant to declare genocide because they are not prepared to take greater actions.

"Here is the case where the administration is not ready to make the determination because it has not determined to do what is necessary to really stop ISIS with the full force that it needs to use," Stanton said during a press conference last week.

Moore, an editorial advisor to The Christian Post, added that if the administration was really determined to make a genocide declaration, the State Department would have made more of a hands-on effort in investigating the allegations of genocide.

He pointed out that before the U.S. declared genocide in Darfur in 2004, the State Department sent about two dozen State Department-funded researchers to the region to investigate.

Instead of sending State Department researchers to investigate the genocidal claims against IS, the State Department outsourced its investigation to humanitarian groups like the Knights of Columbus. Last week, the Knights of Columbus submitted a nearly 280-page report highlighting the proof that IS is committing genocide against Christians.

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution stating that the Islamic State is committing genocide against religious minorities.

"I think the fact that they weren't willing to investigate it themselves, which they were willing to do in Darfur, indicates that there wasn't the will in certain parts of the State Department to take this as seriously as the American people required them to take it," Moore added. "This shows the power of the United States of America when millions of regular people decide that our government needs to do address something seriously and they rally their legislators so that in the most partisan moment that any of us remember in this country we can have a unanimous declaration of genocide from Congress and force the government to stop their delay and to make a decisions."

"John Kerry deserves commendation for that decision and on the same token, we can not let this be a PR exercise," Moore added. "We have to require that the State Department, the White House and members of Congress actually take decisive action to respond to this moral conclusion."

Moore explained that there are a number of things that should be done to take action on the genocide declaration.

He praised Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, who introduced legislation Thursday that would prioritize Christians and other religious minorities in the Syrian refugee resettlement program. Moore added that prioritization in humanitarian aid also needs to be given to Christians and other religious minorities.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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