By James A. Kidney
[This is a reposting to include a helpful reference to an On The Media excerpt.]
When the United States invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in retaliation for the horrific 9/11 attack, the Administration claimed we would be welcomed as liberators and be a beacon for freedom. It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, we lit a fire in the Middle East that still burns with the intensity of a dry California forest.
One result, direct, indirect, or “collateral damage” – depending on your politics and sensitivity – is the human refugee flow from Syria and other war-torn countries of the Middle East to Europe. By now we are all familiar with the sad stories and heart wrenching photos from the area. Hopeful, scared refugees die every day in overturned rubber boats in the middle of the sea. If they reach shore, they are shoved into pens to await . . . . it’s not clear what. American editorialists moralistically cluck over the reactions of European countries to this human flow. But some of these nations, especially Hungary and Greece, face their own dismal economic prospects. Hungary’s government is falling back on Cold War habits with its own people.
Where is the United States and all of those politicians of both parties who constantly claim that this country should be that beacon of freedom? Mostly either silent, speaking in bland generalities, or are against doing much of anything.
This is an opportunity, people! This is a chance to show the world that America is made of more than guns and brusque bombast about freedom and exceptionalism. We can use our Navy, half of which inactive, to help rescue people from rickety craft. We can use our wealth and our surpluses of food to ameliorate both the suffering of the refugees and the financial burdens on our allies. There are many, many things we could do.
This could be the New Marshall Plan, a reference to our generosity to both damaged Allies and defeated enemies after WW II. This is the chance to show why America is a great country. It is not our military might, nor our moralism, and it is not even our wonderful products such as iPhones and Netflix. America is worthy of being a world model because it can show generosity of spirit, supported by kind actions, expecting nothing in return.
Instead, our politicians, fearful of backlash, fearful of a vote lost, tired of the Middle East altogether and – well, just fearful – offer no coherent plan of action.
Most of the focus has been on whether to allow refugees entry into the United States. That is the only response of President Obama – to lift a quota on Syrian refugees to 10,000 starting next year! That’s about as far as any of the candidates seem willing to go.
Of course, immigration is an election issue, though mostly about Mexicans. There is a fear spread by some that the refugees will be terrorists or overwhelm this country and Europe. NPR addresses this fear in a very interesting, fact-based interview with a man who wrote a book on the impact of refugees on 20 cities around the world. He advises that such fears have been overblown repeatedly in other world crises. Most refugees return home when it is safe to do so. In the current case, the percentage seeking refuge in Europe is small compared to those remaining refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
Here is a helpful rundown by NPR dated Sept. 10, 2015 of where each presidential candidate stands on this issue. It is not reassuring. As of that date, the liberal icon Bernie Sanders had said nothing about the issue publicly. Hillary Clinton’s response was mush and deferral to the UN. That great humanitarian and separator of Siamese twins, Ben Carson, also was silent.
Ted Cruz devoted a sentence or two on his website to support for international aid organizations, then more predictably changed the subject to ISIS. Donald Trump provides his usual unhelpful non-specific nonsense. “So horrible on a humanitarian basis,” Trump told MSNBC, according to NPR. “It’s incredible what’s going on. It’s a huge problem and we should help as much as possible, but we do have to fix our own country.”
But the blame must first be placed on the President. His job is to lead. Yes, he has had few political allies outside his own party since he first swore his oath of office. Yes he is on the downside of his two terms. But this should be his moment. He should be taking to the national airwaves to tell the world that regardless of politics, this country will step up to its obligations as a world power and as a genuine beacon of freedom and exceptionalism to provide serious help to the refugees. This help could be in many forms, including temporary asylum in the United States through new visas providing legal residence for a specific period, such as five years, after which the government will assess what further action to take in light of events. Send the Fleet to rescue those threatened on the seas. Send food and materiel to refugee camps in Europe. If these countries will accept, send U.S. troops, FEMA and other personnel to help in processing and caring for the refugees.
There is so much the United States government could do to help. But, instead, the subject may not even come up in the GOP presidential debate tomorrow. We are focused on the stupid and ridiculous. Hillary’s emails. Trump’s insults. Caitlyn Jenner and Inflategate. So it is not only the President. As usual, Pogo is right. The problem is also us.
We are an exceptional country. The question is: What kind of exception?
Step up to your duties, Mr. President. To quote The Huuuuuge Windbag, Make This Country Great Again.