[March 18, 2016] Yesterday morning, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Islamic State’s terrorism is genocide against certain religious groups and is now the official position of the United States of America. People would be correct to say that the U.S. is now demonstrating leadership with this declaration.
However, leadership is not perfect and that is certainly the case here. Many have criticized U.S. President Obama and John Kerry for taking too long to make what would seem to be an obvious decision. The U.S. House of representatives, an ideologically divided group, just passed a nonbinding resolution by a 393-0 vote condemning the Islamic State’s actions and set a deadline of yesterday for Kerry to act.1,2
Those of us who study senior leaders know that decisions are not always quick enough or even correct. Slow decisions can be based in the fear that we will be seen as timid and effete. That fear is outweighed by our trepidation of being wrong on a critical issue especially when our decision could mean the difference in life or death. Such was not the case here when John Kerry gave his pronouncement.
The real reason for the delay, as reported to us, was that John Kerry and others were more concerned about the legal ramifications of the declaration. He feared that the U.S. would then be legally obligated to do something about the genocide. And this is where fear overrides common sense. It cannot be denied that all civilized nations have a moral obligation to condemn the Islamic State’s terror as well as doing something to stop it.
For John Kerry, a declaration without a legal requirement to act was easy once State Department lawyers informed him that the U.S. would have no legal requirement to act. It would be like me disparaging people passing a traffic accident and not helping when I didn’t stop to help either. Sometimes leaders forget that what they say and what they do has not just a legal side to it. In addition, Kerry’s declaration will do absolutely nothing to deter them.
Great leaders know that it is the moral obligations that must be acted upon and acted upon rapidly, unequivocally, and decisively. To be seen as doing so says they have moral courage. Anything else is … cowardice.
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- Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the U.S. officially considers that the Islamic State has committed genocide. “My purpose here today is to assert in my judgment, (ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims,” he said, during a news conference at the State Department.