There are three major and conflicting problems with the Syrian refugee crisis. The first is the least serious but should be noted: it’s not just Syria. The second is much more important: terrorists are infiltrating the ranks. The third is the most important: people with their homeland destroyed need help or they may die.
Before the uglier side of my chosen political affiliation barks out the standard response to the last issue by saying, “it’s not our problem,” I will say definitively that the isolationist perspective has merits but in this case it’s simply untenable. It isn’t just that there are tons of American interests in the Middle East. It’s the reality that the Middle East is the primary reason that the United States has not had an economic collapse. With the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency and its petrodollar moniker, there is nothing that can stop a catastrophic economic downturn that would destroy us. The Middle East is our problem, which means that the people in the Middle East are partially our responsibility.
That doesn’t even take into account the “don’t be a dick” argument. People are dying and we have the means to help them. Ignoring the Middle East would not help those in the United States who are also suffering. In fact, they would be the first to feel the pain from the economic downfall that would hit us if we turned our back to the Middle East.
Problem #2, the infiltration of the Islamic State and other terrorist sympathizers into the ranks of the refugees and therefore western culture is as big of an existential threat to us as the Syrian civil war is to Syrians. The turmoil and systematic upheaval that they could cause would make 9/11 seem relatively harmless to the overall health of the country. Paris was an example. As tragic as it was, it was potentially only the beginning. A single attack kills innocent people and shakes the nerves of the country and the world. A string of successful attacks would change the face of western culture and establish a civilian counterinsurgency that could destroy the fabric of America.
As for the first problem, it’s semantics. There’s nothing that can really be done about it, so we should just accept that this is a Middle East refugee crisis. Whether they’re coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else in or around the region, we must not get caught up in trying to separate out the needy from the more needy.
To solve this problem, we have to accept two major changes to our policy as well as the policy in Europe.
This Must Be Temporary
Everyone is treating this situation as if the only hope is to bring the refugees into lands where they might have a better chance of prospering. This isn’t World War II. It’s the 21st century and we have to start treating this situation from that perspective. Whatever damage has been done in Syria and other countries in the Middle East can be repaired once the Syrian civil war is over and the Islamic State has been annihilated.
That means that the refugees shouldn’t be flooding Europe. They shouldn’t be brought over to North America or other continents. They should be given a safe home in places close to their homeland to live until the world can help them return to their lands in safety. I’ll go into more details about that shortly, but let’s first look at the second major change that must be accepted, however reluctantly.
The Syrian Civil War Must End Even if Assad is Still in Power
Whether Bashar al-Assad remains in power or not is really none of our concern. Again, I’m not siding with the isolationists on this one. I’m simply pointing out that over the last decade and a half whenever we go in and work on regime changes, they don’t seem to end as well for the people as they would had we never gotten involved in the first place.
What we and the rest of the world must do is to bring about peace in the fastest way possible. This means working with Russia. If they are adamant about keeping Assad in power, so be it. We are in contact with the rebel forces. If we’re not going to give them the real assistance they need and go head to head with Russia in the prelude to World War III, then we acknowledge defeat for our friends and turn our attention to the Islamic State.
It sounds harsh. Most would admit that Assad is not the right person to be leading Syria, but I’m not completely convinced that anyone we would help to put in power would be any better. Our track record is pretty shabby.
More importantly, we never committed. Russia has. We had the opportunity to create regime change when President Obama’s red line was crossed. We chose not to take advantage of the situation and therefore we lost the initiative. Now that Russia has committed to his side of the war, we can either back off or escalate. Backing off means that Assad stays in power. Escalating means World War III. Our missed opportunity means that Russia and Assad have won. It’s time for the US to cut bait on regime change in Syria.
Destroy the Islamic State
Senator Ted Cruz is promoting the idea that if we dramatically escalate airstrikes and arm our Kurdish allies to the teeth, we can destroy the Islamic State. I would push it even further by forming a coalition of military forces led by a remarkable alliance between the United States and Russia, but then again I’m sitting in an office and Cruz has access to real intelligence reports, so we’ll go with his plan.
Regardless of how it’s done, the #1 military goal for the entire world should be to utterly destroy the Islamic State. They have demonstrated a willingness to do anything, kill anyone, and use the types of tactics that demonstrate the evil in their collective hearts. They cannot be contained. They cannot be negotiated with in humane terms. The only way the Middle East and the world could ever be safe is if the Islamic State ceased to exist.
In the Meantime…
Back to the Middle East refugee crisis. We’ve established that they need to be kept close enough to their homeland where it’s easy for them to return once the wars are over. Then, the world can assist them in rebuilding their homes, cities, and way of life.
That means that Saudi Arabia is the ultimate answer for “temporary refugee housing.” Germany is accepting tons of refugees while having 17 times higher population density than Saudi Arabia. There are 232 people per square mile living in Germany compared to 14 per square mile in Saudi Arabia.
Much of the land is uninhabitable. Make it inhabitable. Considering the tens of billions of dollars that the refugee crisis is going to cost many of the countries of the world just to cover the logistics, why not simplify the process and build the ultimate refugee camps. Install security, schools, opportunities for employment, healthcare, sanitation, and everything necessary for indefinite living. It won’t be indefinite, but make it last just in case.
Currently, Saudi Arabia has 100,000 air-conditioned refugee tents that are not being used. Imagine if they had the world’s support to set up 20 of these quickly. It would still be cheaper than what European countries are going to have to pay with the current situation.
Some will argue that it would take too long. Again, this is the 21st century and we’re talking about tens of billions of dollars that countries are already going to have to spend. Why spend the money destroying cultures and creating an atmosphere of chaos that allows incidents like Paris to happen when we can use fewer resources to make a stable atmosphere close to their homeland?
Others would argue that it takes away from the human spirit, that giving them opportunity in Europe and the United States is better for them. That is one of the most presumptuous arguments that anyone could make. Giving them opportunity elsewhere is a consolation prize to many of these people. What most of them really want is to return to their homeland once order is established so they can rebuild and move on. They aren’t seeking our way of life. Those who did could have left long ago. They’re seeking safety in desperate situations.
The last argument is that Saudi Arabia won’t do it. At some point, we need to stop treating Saudi Arabia as the people with all of the oil and start treating them as the people who need other countries to buy their oil. This is their opportunity to further solidify their status as the leader in oil exports in exchange for cooperation with the refugee crisis. They can make out very well if they play ball. If they turn their back on their brothers in the Middle East, they could turn out like Venezuela, the country with the largest oil reserves. I’m sure Venezuela would be willing to take on the refugees in exchange for Saudi Arabia’s oil contracts.
This is a complex situation, but that doesn’t mean the answers to the problems have to be complex as well. The safety of the refugees and the safety of the countries that take on the refugees do not have to be mutually exclusive goals.