National Security & Defense

When It Comes to Syrian Refugees, Who Really Lacks Compassion?

Syrian refugees walk towards the Greek-Macedonian border, September 2015. (Reuters photo: Yannis Behrakis)
The West’s response to the crisis has been botched from day one.

Yesterday Donald Trump Jr. kicked up a social-media firestorm with this tweet, using Skittles to make an argument about Syrian refugees:

As an analogy, it’s wrong on a number of fronts. Obviously, refugees shouldn’t be compared to candy. They’re suffering human beings. Moreover, the ratio of dangerous refugees is far lower than “three Skittles per bag.” Indeed, while we know Syrian and Iraqi refugees include a certain number of terrorists (including those participating in mass-scale sexual assaults in Europe), the ratio is low.

And indeed, the online outrage was palpable:

Here’s Jon Favreau, former Obama speechwriter:

And Christian writer Nish Weiseth:

https://twitter.com/NishWeiseth/status/778063680114073600

Reza Aslan chimed in with this pithy argument:

https://twitter.com/rezaaslan/status/778051005845864448

Yet here’s the fundamental problem with this outrage-of-the-day treatment of Trump’s refugee comment — it obscures the sad reality that the joint American-European approach to the Syria and Iraq conflicts has been the least compassionate, least wise of all possible applications of Western power to the crisis. The great powers stood by as a human-rights catastrophe unfolded, and refused to apply appropriate levels of force and security guarantees to create safe havens in the Middle East. They have responded to the resultant disaster by opening Europe to a destabilizing flood of refugees (mainly men) who we know are infiltrated to some degree by ISIS jihadists.

As for the American response, we’ve at least had the good sense to limit our refugee intake (and vet them better) compared to our European allies, but no American Obama partisan can seize the moral high ground when his administration has so thoroughly failed to adequately respond to the unfolding conflict.

The Obama administration’s withdrawal left Iraq vulnerable to ISIS’s low-tech blitzkrieg. When ISIS emerged as a declared enemy of the United States, rather than responding decisively, we let jihadists impose a reign of terror in Northern Syria and Northern Iraq. And even if the Syrian Civil War was far too muddled — with too few proven allies — for decisive early intervention, there was still an opportunity (as there was in Iraq after Desert Storm) to establish safe zones for refugees — places where people could flee and receive sufficient food, shelter, and protection much closer to their homes. By protecting the Kurds (and later, the Shiites) in Iraq, the Bush and Clinton administrations spared the world an earlier version of the exact crisis it now faces.

We can defeat the terrorists over there. We can shelter refugees over there. Immigration or death is a false choice.

Now we’re being browbeat with the notion that it is somehow truly compassionate not to take the decisive steps necessary to end the crisis at its origin, but rather to import some small number of the refugee total — when we know ISIS is trying to infiltrate or inspire refugees, and we know the failures of our existing vetting practices have led to the loss of hundreds of American lives. Prior to 9/11 our border and immigration controls failed to prevent 19 “visitors” from inflicting the worst attack on American soil since the British burned Washington to the ground in the War of 1812, and since 9/11 our “vetting” hasn’t prevented immigrant terror attacks at home or “friendly” terror attacks abroad. Just ask the grieving Gold Star families of victims of attacks from “vetted” allied military forces.

Yesterday, I wrote that Americans are still reluctant to face facts about the Muslim world. And one of those sad facts is that jihadists will exploit our compassion. They will exploit our openness. It is incumbent upon our national leadership (and the pundit class) to understand those facts and adopt policies that reflect that reality. If one terrorist out of 50,000 refugees brings down an airplane or detonates himself in Times Square, the ratio of terrorist to refugee is of cold comfort to the families of the fallen — especially when there was (and is) an alternative path, one that saves refugee lives while protecting American security.

We can defeat the terrorists over there. We can shelter refugees over there. Immigration or death is a false choice, one that we’ve created with our own fecklessness. We can reverse course. We should reverse course. And the inspiration for the change should in part be the very same pictures tweeted at Trump’s son. Want to save Syrian children? Admitting far less than 1 percent to the U.S. (while simultaneously risking American civilian lives) is not the way. Save them instead from the war that threatens them and destabilizes our allies and a key strategic region. That’s true compassion, true wisdom, and — critically — in the true national-security interest of the United States.

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