America’s latest failure on Syria? The refugee crisis
Should the West open its arms to Syrians, it counteracts ISIS’s own propaganda that the West seeks to destroy Muslim lives
More than two dozen United States governors have capitalized on the recent horrific acts of terrorism in Paris to announce their states will not admit a single Syrian refugee. Amid the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, the politicians have seized this moment to evade any moral responsibility for even one of the millions of Syrians in need. Their knee-jerk reactions are devoid of any meaningful strategy and in total contradiction with domestic security assessments. Ultimately, their actions over the last week have marked an ugly new chapter in the U.S.’s failing of the Syrian people. Not too long ago, when several tiny bodies washed ashore in Libya, I wrote that it underscored DC’s failure to confront the humanitarian toll of the conflict and efficiently resettle a reasonable number of refugees. The outrage and ineffable sadness the world experienced as the photograph of Aylan Kurdi circulated appears to have proved ephemeral.
The list of recent reprehensible remarks made by U.S. politicians regarding Syrian refugees is not short. Among them include Louisiana state senator David Vitter, who claimed via blog post that he had “notify” President Obama’s administration that a Syrian refugee living in his state had “gone missing.” He added, “There is an unmonitored Syrian refugee who is walking around freely, and no one knows where he is.” His repugnant statements were not based on even remotely credible claims; The Advocate reported that the Syrian man in question had moved to another state to be with his family after filing the correct paperwork to do so. Meanwhile, David Bowers, mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, demanded that local agencies halt assistance to Syrian refugees. In a written statement he said, “President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”
Should the West open its arms to Syrians, it counteracts ISIS’s own propaganda that the West seeks to destroy Muslim livesBrooklyn Middleton
The “real and serious threat” then was not a threat at all but instead irrational fear that eroded our morality and prompted a horrendous period of U.S. history. Citing such a time as aspirational for the current fight against terrorism is extremely worrisome. It is these types of remarks that prompted the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to issue a statement urging the U.S. to “avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group.” Further noting that, “It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity.”
Denying ISIS propaganda wins
If one is not moved by the moral impetus to act, they should certainly be moved by how utterly unsound the politicians’ core argument for refusing to resettle refugees is: The assertion that militants or their sympathizers would go through a formal and extensive vetting process – exposing their networks and registering their identities with multiple U.S. security agencies – lacks basic reason. Politicians’ failure to accept this very key point should trigger concerns about their apparent inability to think rationally in a moment of perceived crisis. Welcoming Syrian refugees is also strategic; it denies ISIS multiple propaganda wins as each fleeing Syrian marks one additional person ISIS was unable to persuade or force to live under its brutal rule. Moreover, should the West open its arms to Syrians, it counteracts the militant group’s own propaganda that the West seeks to destroy Muslim lives – the value of that is significant. That said, even if resettling Syrian refugees had no strategic value, doing so would be no less imperative.
Foreign fighters’ - who have flocked to fight alongside terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq - pose a serious security risk to the West; this is not a new issue brought forth by the terrorist attacks in Paris. In November 2014, the Meir Amit Intelligence & Terrorism Center indicated that at least 13,000 foreigners were currently fighting alongside ISIS, with at least 3,000 of those believed to be from the West. In the year since, the inability to prevent foreigners from journeying to war-torn Syria and Iraq has led to a sharp increase in the overall number of foreign fighters engaged in conflicts, with current figures indicating the number has climbed to approximately 30,000. The Paris attacks and the deadly Brussels Jewish museum shooting - underscore the threat of foreign fighters’ return to Europe - not vetted refugees who are flocking such horror.
The laziest argument in support of failing to admit Syrian refugees to the U.S. is that which cites the failures of other countries, including Arab states, to do the same. The failure of many Gulf states to formally resettle Syrian refugees is indefensible. But the repeated citing of this as an attempt to distract from our own failures is equally so.
What U.S. political leaders should be doing at this very moment is drafting a plan to settle a specific number of at risk refugees by a specific date; they should be meeting with their local Muslim, Jewish, and Christian community leaders to discuss how to not only plan for the arrival of these families but how to serve as a resource for them in the years to come. And most importantly, they should attempt to actually present initiatives addressing both ISIS and the murderous Assad regime, in an effort to help end the conflict in Syria – the root of this crisis. These politicians’ press releases and bellicose statements ultimately only highlight their total inability to both reasonably assess security matters and act rationally. There is a moral obligation to admit Syrian refugees to the U.S.; if U.S. politicians act to prevent this, the ghosts of the Syrian conflict should haunt them personally and will haunt them professionally for the years to come.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.