Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Obama Administration: MIA on the Destruction of Syrian and Iraqi Heritage

On WBEZ's Worldview, Mac Gibson and Patty Gerstenblith try to remain diplomatic, but make clear that the Obama administration is seriously delinquent in failing to have responded to the surge of antiquities looting in Syria and Iraq over the past years, in particular failing to issue an executive order banning imports of Syrian materials. 

One possible reason for turning a blind eye to looting before the rise of ISIS may be because the money made selling looted antiquities would have gone predominantly -- though we know not exclusively -- to anti-Assad rebel groups and suffering civilian populations. The administration may well have thought of the illicit antiquities trade as all in all a good thing in this situation, the loss of archaeological context and destruction of heritage a small price worth paying. In other words, the failure to ban imports might well indicate a covert policy of benign (sic) neglect.

But it's been months and months since the first video of ISIL destroying artifacts made it impossible to ignore the connection between antiquities looting and support for an organization we are purportedly trying to destroy. Lawmakers are introducing legislation; the general in charge of the US's new air war over Iraq and Syria is questioned about what the US plans to do about ISIL's archaeological depredations. This week we learn that an ISIL leader killed by us turned out to have had a cache of looted antiquities in his house. Yet there is still not a peep out of the White House, notwithstanding John Kerry's big talk at the Metropolitan Museum last fall.

So why the continued delay in imposing sanctions -- or in targeting bulldozers heading out to remote archaeological sites, or in putting pressure on transit countries to beef up border controls, or in supporting a bill to establish a coordinator capable of banging heads and getting the intelligence agencies to work together with the FBI to take down the smuggling networks supporting the trade that supports ISIL?

Attention must be paid.

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