Among the funniest lines to come out of White House daily press briefings under the Barack Obama presidency are the words “We’re looking into that.” Whenever the administration wants to avoid making a decision on which the president’s position is unpopular — greenlighting the Keystone XL pipeline as a case in point — Press Secretary Josh Earnest will answer reporters’ questions about delays with the assurance that “We’re looking into that.”
The most recent stall was in answer to whether the administration was ready to call the Islamic State’s wholesale executions of Syrian Christians genocide. This is a question that has been on the mind of reporters and of the American public at large.
It was asked last week of Secretary of State John Kerry, who told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Assistance he had ordered an “additional evaluation” to help him determine the answer.
The question came up again at yesterday’s press briefing. Here is a video of Earnest’s answer. The transcript of the money portions of the answer follows:
You’ll recall, at the very beginning of the military campaign against ISIL, at the — some of the first actions that were ordered by President Obama, by the United States military were to protect Yazidi religious minorities that were essentially cornered on Mount Sinjar by ISIL fighters. We took those strikes to clear a path so that those religious minorities could be rescued.
So we have long been concerned by the way that — that ISIL attempts to target religious minorities.
We also know that they target Christians in the area, too. In that region of the world, Christians are a religious minority, and we certainly have been concerned — you know, that’s one of the many reasons that we’re concerned with ISIL and their tactics, which is that it’s an affront to our values as a country to see people attacked, singled out or slaughtered based on their religious beliefs.
The — my understanding is the use of that word [genocide] involves a very specific legal determination that has, at this point, not been reached. But we’ve been quite candid and direct, exactly, about how — how ISIL’s tactics are worthy of the kind of international, robust response that the international community is leading. And those tactics include a willingness to target religious minorities, including Christians.