Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The issue of whether the US should take in Syrian refugees is easily one of the biggest and most annoying red herrings in the recent history of American politics.  The simple fact is that regardless of how many refugees the US takes in, it will be no more than a tiny fraction of the total number suffering in Syria.  The real issue, therefore, is what to do about the situation there, which has been generating horrific levels of carnage for four years now, killing hundreds of thousands, driving literally millions to flee their homes  and incidentally spawning a virulent new genocidal-terrorist quasi-state in the process.

Unfortunately, nobody wants to discuss that very pertinent question, for multiple reasons:
  • It's an embarrassment to the Obama administration, which has miserably failed to address either the humanitarian or the national security aspects of the problem.
  • It's a deeply divisive issue for Republicans in Congress, who are split between hawkish interventionists and neo-quasi-isolationists on many foreign policy matters, including this one.
  • All sides of the civil war in Syria are too rabidly anti-US and anti-Western to win wholehearted American support on either moral or national security grounds.
  • Recent US adventures in the Middle East (in Iraq and Afghanistan) have ended badly enough to eliminate any taste among the public for a reprise. 
The refugee issue, on the other hand, is wonderful fodder for partisan bickering, for several reasons:
  • It parallels the immigration issue, which both sides of the aisle in the US are constantly working for partisan advantage.
  • It naturally divides along class lines, with upper-class Americans generally supporting allowing refugees in, and lower-class ones opposing it.
  • It feeds existing partisan attack patterns, providing Democrats with an opportunity to accuse Republicans of being racist and Republicans with an opportunity to accuse Democrats of jeopardizing American security.
So what would a reasonable US policy look like, absent partisan pie fights about red herrings?  Well, here's a proposal:
  • There are already millions of Syrian refugees living in squalid conditions in various neighboring countries in the region.  The US could help them much better by providing them with aid in their current locations, than by cherry-picking a few for transplantation to the US.  (Perhaps the government could re-purpose some of the money currently allocated for Palestinian "refugees" whose families have lived in their current location for multiple generations now.)
  • The bulk of the killing in Syria over the last four years has been done by the Assad regime and its supporters, Iran and Russia.  Given that these are three of the most implacably and aggressively anti-US governments on the planet, military support for their dedicated enemies--including some perhaps-not-so-savory ones--should be a no-brainer, especially since they've been holding their own remarkably well to date, and may need only a bit more assistance to put the regime and its allies to flight.
  • If it turns out that ISIS was in fact responsible for the Paris attacks, then the US should join with its French ally in destroying the ISIS quasi-state.  The US can then atone for its errors in Iraq and Afghanistan by deliberately not staying around to try to construct a stable, friendly regime in its place.  Realistically, the best that can be hoped for there is a replacement that's too frightened or preoccupied to engage in anti-Western terrorism--and little can be done to improve the odds of that outcome, beyond consistently destroying any emerging quasi-states that fail to live up to it.