Origins of the Refugee Crisis

I found myself nodding my head vigorously as I read this article. Yes, I believe the West had a moral obligation to address the festering problem in Syria years ago, and yes, I believe the leaders of the free world are responsible, in part, for the worsening refugee crisis. I won't argue that war is the answer - most of the time it is not - but at minimum, there should have been safe havens in place years ago. The millions of refugees flowing into Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan were met with feeble responses, most often, "What can the Alliance do with a lack of political will? And anyway, Assad's air defense is too strong." I kept thinking: It's going to get really bad and then what are world leaders going to do? The answer is clear now: nothing at all. Excerpted from the American Interest article linked above:

"To see the full cynicism of the Obama approach to the refugee issue, one has only to ask President Obama’s least favorite question: Why is there a Syrian refugee crisis in the first place?

Obama’s own policy decisions—allowing Assad to convert peaceful demonstrations into an increasingly ugly civil war, refusing to declare safe havens and no fly zones—were instrumental in creating the Syrian refugee crisis. This crisis is in large part the direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to stand aside and watch Syria burn. For him to try and use a derisory and symbolic program to allow 10,000 refugees into the United States in order to posture as more caring than those evil Jacksonian rednecks out in the benighted sticks is one of the most cynical, cold-blooded, and nastily divisive moves an American President has made in a long time.

Moreover, many of those “benighted” people were willing to sign up for the U.S. military and go to fight ISIS in Syria to protect the refugees. Many Americans who now oppose the President’s ill-considered refugee program have long supported the use of American power to create “safe zones” in Syria so the refugees could be sheltered and fed in their own country. If President Obama seriously cared about the fate of Syria’s millions of displaced people, he would have started to organize those safe havens years ago. And if he understood the nature of America’s role in Europe, he would have known that working with the Europeans to prevent a mass refugee and humanitarian disaster was something that had to be done."

Eyes Closed, Walking into the Abyss

In 2013 John Kerry said "our" response to Assad's use of chemical weapons matters because "if we choose to live in the world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity . . . there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will." Since then, the focus has shifted dramatically to ISIS, and many in the west have failed to acknowledge the role of the Assad regime in the crisis. This from the BBC:

IS remains a potent force in Syria and must be countered, but it will not be marching on Damascus anytime soon, contrary to some uninformed fear mongering. Al-Qaeda also poses a pressing and more long-term threat, perhaps more so than has been acknowledged. But at the end of the day, the root cause of the entire Syrian crisis is Assad and his regime . . .

While accommodating Russian and Iranian demands for Assad's survival and potentially even a de facto partition of the country may seem like an attainable objective, this will only prolong and intensify the conflict and will almost certainly spark a jihadist mobilization the like of which the world has never seen.

The vast majority of refugees now entering Europe are fleeing Assad's murder machine, not IS or al-Qaeda. Ever since Syrians took to the streets in March 2011, the Western response has been both feeble and noncommittal, but the world is now in need of real leadership. Unfortunately, it seems our leaders are walking into the abyss with their eyes closed.

The Myth of Confrontation

To use Samuel Huntington’s phrase, one is inclined to see a “clash of civilizations” in these and other recent events. That is, a conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilizations. And this may indeed be the reality. I do not wish to make a definitive argument here in favor of or against Huntington’s thesis, but rather present, by way of a book review, a counter argument that puts it into question.

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Universal Values

Secretary of State John Kerry on Syria a few minutes ago:

"It matters because if we choose to live in the world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will.

It is also profoundly about who we are. We are the United States of America. We are the country that has tried, not always successfully, but always tried to honor a set of universal values around which we have organized our lives and our aspirations."

The United States hasn't always lived up to the values it professes, but I think it's important to invoke them and act on them in situations like this.

Atem Lo Levad, Carrots & Sticks

President Obama gave a thoughtful speech in Jerusalem last week, and as this article notes, "Just through his rhetorical approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Obama has helped restore some sanity and humanity to the debate." You can read the whole speech here, or if you just want highlights, NPR has 5 here. I particularly like this bit:

"That’s where peace begins, not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people; not just in some carefully designed process, but in the daily connections, that sense of empathy that takes place among those who live together in this land and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. And let me say this as a politician, I can promise you this: Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things."

And this defense of Palestinians' rights:

"The Palestinian people's right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own, living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student's ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land."