The Corner


Honor and Practicality

Soldiers walk past an image of Saddam Hussein in Tikrit, Iraq, on December 27, 2003. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters)

My Impromptus column today begins with a very grave item — the crisis of the Uyghurs in China — and does not get all that cheerier. But there is a little comic relief. (In the form of my Detroit Lions?) I wanted to expand on a couple of items, here in the Corner.

In 2015, I wrote a piece called “A Question of Honor: As the wolves circle, Iraqis who helped us are pleading for visas.” We abandoned many who had helped us in Vietnam; we are repeating this travesty. In 2015, I wondered whether Obama & Co. simply wanted to wash their hands of the Iraq War and were turning their backs on people for whom we had some responsibility. Today, the situation is worse.

On Monday, the New York Times published a report that began,

The Trump administration is refusing to take in thousands of Iraqis who risked their lives helping American forces during the Iraq war, cutting the number of high-priority refugees allowed into the United States this year and drastically slowing background checks they must undergo.

The report continued,

Only 153 Iraqi refugees whose applications were given high priority were admitted in the fiscal year that ended in September — down from a high of 9,829 in the 2014 fiscal year . . .

One more paragraph:

An estimated 110,000 Iraqis are waiting to be approved as refugees based on their wartime assistance. But on Friday, the Trump administration capped the number eligible this year at 4,000.

To some of us, this is a question of honor, as I said in 2015. But say you don’t think so. Honor, shmonor, you say. They knew what they were getting into. Screw ’em. This is a tougher America now, and “Our country is full,” as the president says. This is Trump-Bannon-Miller time, not Reagan-Bush-Bush time. Wake up and smell the coffee, man. Don’t give me any of this neocon globalism. Okay. What about stark realism? Cold practicality?

In September, I talked with Ryan Crocker, who for decades was a leading U.S. diplomat in the Middle East. He was ambassador to six countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the issues we discussed was this issue of visas. “Here again,” said Crocker, “our interests and our values intersect.” He continued,

Those who have helped us in certain situations at the risk of their own lives — they deserve to be treated well by us. The Vietnamese weren’t. People throughout the world — especially in the Middle East — look at Iraq, look at Afghanistan, and shake their heads. They say, in essence, “Not only can’t you count on the Americans to stay in the game and protect you on the ground. You can’t even count on them to do the right thing and get you to safety.”

And here comes the “practical” part:

This is going to make it harder in the next fight we get into — wherever it’s going to be, and it will be somewhere — to get the local support that we so urgently need. You can’t fight these wars by yourself. You need people who know the territory, who speak the language, etc. Who will be willing to step forward, given how we have treated allies in the past?

That is something for all of us to consider.

One more word, on another issue, before I go. In Impromptus today, I touch on last week’s congressional resolution on Armenia. The House declared the mass killings of the Armenians by Ottoman forces in 1915 a genocide. For many years, Bernard Lewis, the great historian of the Middle East, was tagged a “holocaust denier.” He did not regard the mass killings of the Armenians as a holocaust on a par with the Nazi holocaust of the Jews.

The issue came up at a press conference in 2002 (when Lewis was 86). To see how he handled it, watch this clip.

The word “genocide” — one of the most charged of all words — can be a tricky one. Strictly speaking, a genocide is the attempted extermination of a people. Most of the time, we use it to mean killings on a mass scale. “The Cambodian genocide,” for example, or “the Chinese genocide.” Did the Khmer Rouge intend to wipe out the Cambodians? (They went a long way toward doing so, murdering some 2 million people, which is to say, between a fifth and a quarter of the population.) Did Mao and his fellow Chinese Communists intend to wipe out the Chinese? (They got about 70 million of them.)

This is a ghoulish game, as you can see, and I am going to stop now. Again, my column is here. And if you would like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — who wouldn’t, after the fun of all this mass-murder talk! — let me know at


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