08/08/2014 04:52 pm ET Updated Oct 08, 2014

Standing With Yazidis and Against Genocide

With the lives of 40,000 at immediate risk of genocide in northern Iraq, we should support and applaud President Obama's decision to take action to protect innocent civilians.

Rarely is there a case so clear for the need to act on the responsibility to protect civilians from the threat of genocide as on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq right now.

Evoking the principles of genocide prevention and the responsibility to protect, President Obama took to the nation's airwaves last night calling for the protection of Iraqi Yazidis, beginning with immediate air drops of food and water:

"When we face a situation like we do on that mountain -- with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help ... and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.

We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That's what we're doing on that mountain."

-- President Obama

Authorization of the use of force, even if limited, should always be an option of last resort, but prevention of genocide in the face of imminent slaughter by a group that has publicly avowed its intention to destroy civilians based on their religious identity, is a case where the last resort may be necessary.

This action comes at the request of the Iraqi government, and in the face of the starvation and slaughter of thousands. Failure to act would be morally indefensible.

It is also important, however, to recognize that the law of unintended consequences is never stronger than in Iraq. The assault by Islamist extremists is one part of a broader, long term conflict in Iraq, which, President Obama rightfully notes, requires a political solution.

The United States cannot and should not rely on short term air drops and air strikes as a solution to this crisis. Strong U.S. leadership is needed for a coordinated and effective international response that addresses the underlying issues.

Our thoughts should be with the 40,000 Iraqi Yazidis, Christian minorities, and all those in Iraq under attack not because of anything they have done but because of the religion they practice. Under the threat of genocide, they need to know that we stand with them.