Vice president announces ‘enormous shift’ in policy; USAID to work directly with faith-based organizations in Iraq
by Brendan Kirby |
Advocates who have been warning that Iraq’s Christian communities are in danger of extinction cheered Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement that the United States no longer will rely on the United Nations and will directly fund relief efforts.
Pence’s announcement Wednesday evening at the In Defense of Christians annual dinner in Washington marks a major break from a policy that began under Barack Obama and continued into the administration of President Donald Trump.
“It’s an enormous shift, a historic shift. And I’m thrilled,” said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. “This will make a difference for Christian communities in Iraq.”
The Obama administration spent more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid on U.N.-managed programs to rebuild war-torn cities in the Middle East. But Shea and others have been arguing for some time that very little of that aid has reached Christians and other religious minorities facing genocide.
On Wednesday, Pence echoed those concerns.
“My friends, those days are over,” he said to applause.
Pence said that Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding “ineffective relief efforts” by the United Nations and provide direct aid through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” he said. “The United States will work hand in hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith.”
Shea said the threats to Iraqi Christians are particularly heartbreaking considering that these are some of the oldest Christian communities in the world, dating almost to the time of Christ.
“These communities and churches trace their faith to Thomas the Apostle.”
“These communities and churches trace their faith to Thomas the Apostle,” she said.
The Rev. Benedict Kiely, a Catholic priest who runs an organization dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in the Middle East, praised the policy change.
“This is joyous and welcome news from the Trump administration — the news persecuted Christians in the Middle East have been waiting to hear since the election of President Trump,” he wrote in an email to LifeZette. “The U.N. has proved to be entirely ineffective in getting aid to the persecuted minorities. The Trump administration’s decision is the first piece of good news the persecuted Christians of the Middle East have heard in more than eight years.”
Kiely wrote that the Iraqi Christians placed great hope in Trump’s election.
“The bypassing of the U.N., while politically incorrect, is exactly what was needed,” he wrote. “The Obama administration was regarded by the suffering Christians as not only uncaring, but actively hostile to their needs.”
Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, also praised the decision.
“A year ago the United States used the right word to describe what was happening to Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East,” he said in a statement. “That word was ‘genocide.’ Tonight, those words were put into action.”
Middle Eastern Christians face problems well beyond a lack of help rebuilding damaged buildings and restoring electricity. Advocates say many Christians who fled are reluctant to return for fear that they will be victimized by former Islamic State terrorists and other Muslim extremists.
Shea said reconstruction projects funded directly by the U.S. government should help address security concerns as well.
“We will see our investment at risk and will want to see the success of these villages,” she said.