Post-9/11, I read a quip that went something like this: “I just realized what the problem is with the 21st century. We got the numbers mixed up. It’s not 2001, it’s 1200.”

In the ensuing years, barbarism and religious wars have made a strong comeback—not that they’d ever really disappeared. But with the rise of ISIS, we now have a group giving itself over to their purest expression. Beheadings and crucifixions are part of their m.o., as well as forced conversions with the threat of death or exile looming, and now the imminent extermination of a minority religious group, the Yazidi, at ISIS’s bloody hands.

The Yazidi have one representative in Iraq’s parliament. Her name is Vian Dakhil and her recent raw cri de coeur to save her people has made her famous. The world loves a show and a dramatic story, but it no longer loves actually taking on risky rescues, and has become accustomed to relying on the Americans to do so.

Nature—and geopolitics—abhors a vacuum. The deposing of bad guy Saddam Hussein left a hole that other bad guys would inevitably try to rush to fill. Anyone who would cause the toppling of Saddam had to know it might be necessary for them to stick around at some level for at least a generation if they wanted a chance of ensuring that a new group of leaders of a different and better ilk would be substituting instead.

But quite early on it became clear that, due to the efforts of the left in this country and changes in Americans’ attitude towards war, occupation, and sacrifice, we lacked the requisite commitment.

Even the Bush administration was dedicated to that purpose only halfway, and halfway measures don’t tend to do the trick. But with the surge, our efforts finally seemed to be, if not entirely successful, then good enough. At the time of the handoff to Obama, things were at the point that if our new president had had the same focus as the old, ISIS would almost certainly not be here today (also, its Syrian genesis was facilitated by Obama’s disastrous policies there).

But we all know that Obama very much lacked even Bush’s level of commitment, and the Islamic terrorists knew it, too, right from the start, because Obama made it crystal clear. The one last chance to prevent disaster was that Obama might have left a reduced American presence in Iraq under a SOFA agreement. But he made only token and empty efforts to do that, and in fact was relieved to be able to pull out entirely:

The current horror show in Iraq, including the pending extermination of the Yazidi and the grave threat to the Kurds, follows from that sequence of events. A small residual force—which Obama never wanted to leave there—would have allowed us to retain the ability to strike in a timely fashion, when ISIS was initially massing and vulnerable. It would have given us a conduit to intelligence information that we now lack. It would have given us a flexibility in that region that we don’t have.

Obama had bet that Iraq was stable enough by the 2011 pullout that nothing too dramatic would flare up there during the remaining years of his presidency. He bet wrong.

And then for a while after ISIS began its murderous metastasis he bet he could dither until the next crisis came along to distract the ADD American people.

But yesterday evening the horror and the pressure grew too great, and Obama announced limited, targeted airstrikes for humanitarian reasons, with caveats:

Obama said he has given the green-light to the Pentagon for the limited, targeted bombing if top military officials monitoring the shifting situation on the ground believe ISIS continues to pose a serious threat to people in the northern Kurdish-controlled region or if militants threaten U.S. servicemen and personnel in Irbil, according to a U.S. official.

Is there any doubt that “ISIS continues to pose a serious threat to people in the northern Kurdish-controlled region”? Of course not. So that statement may have been put in there just to give Obama some wriggle room and the ability to postpone if he changed his mind.

Obama has waited until the eleventh hour rather than nipping this thing in the bud, and it’s not clear even now whether the bombing will actually take place. An ounce of more timely prevention would have been worth several tons of non-cure, and many innocent lives would probably have been saved.

Obama included an assurance that we will not be drawn into another war in Iraq, nor will we put any troops on the ground. ISIS will be very happy to hear that. Revealing at this point to the enemy that we have set such voluntary limits is tremendously counterproductive.

But Obama is more intent on soothing the fears of his political base than letting an enemy think, even for a moment, that he just might attack them in a more serious and sustained fashion. Obama seems determined to inform one of the most vicious and bloodthirsty enemy forces on earth that we choose to be the weak horse in this battle.

ISIS certainly won’t be stopping with the Yazidis. Every religious and ethnic group in Iraq other than fundamentalist Sunni Muslims faces grave danger, actual and potential, at their hands. Why should we care, other than for humanitarian reasons? Increasing instability in the region threatens us all, as does the rise of the strongest, most well-armed, and richest Islamist terrorist group the world has known so far. Islam has bloody borders, but in recent decades the world has shrunk—and we all know how little borders seem to mean these days.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]