The prospect of admitting 10,000 refugees from war-torn Syria has become a controversy about which there is no middle ground.
On the one hand, as Alexandri Petri claims in the Washington Post, people who are uncomfortable with resettling a number of Middle Easterners in the American homeland must be racists or worse. President Obama echoed this sentiment by suggesting that Republicans who want to stop or even slow down the influx of refugees from Syria are “offensive and hysterical.” The president noted that few of the 10,000 refugees are men of military age, so opponents of their being resettled must be scared of widows and orphans.
On the other hand, opponents of settling refugees from Syria suggest that the vetting process will be inadequate to weed out all of the potential jihadis who might want to infiltrate into the United States to commit murder and mayhem. Their position is buttressed by the massacres that took place in Paris and, more recently, in Mali. The idea of the same thing happening in New York or Washington has Americans frightened to distraction. Even Democrats have noticed this, since so many of them joined their Republican counterparts in the House to pass a bill setting up restrictions on admitting Syrian refugees.
The United States has a long tradition of providing shelter to victims of its foreign policy mistakes. Since the fall of Cuba to Castro, Cubans without number have floated the 90 miles of ocean between that island country and Florida to gain asylum. In the 1970s, after Saigon fell to the communists, the United States Navy plucked about a large number of Vietnamese boat people from the ocean, and many found homes and new lives in America.
One aspect of the Middle East migrant crisis that irks many people is how avoidable it was. If President Obama had not plunged Libya into chaos by helping to oust Muammar Gaddafi and had actually defended the red line he had drawn when Syria’s Bashir Assad decided to slaughter his own people, millions would not now feel obliged to leave their homes.
The vast majority of Middle Easterners who are seeking asylum are peaceful and, in fact, are fleeing persecution. However, it takes only a few jihadis to show up at a movie theater or a rock concert with machine guns and bomb vests and fill it with bodies.
The solution to the conundrum is staring us in the face. If we judge it unsafe to resettle thousands and, later, tens of thousands of Middle Easterners among us, we (meaning the world community and mostly Arab boots on the ground) have to invade their unhappy country and make things right. At the very least, the world community can carve out a safe zone where displaced people in Syria can live in safety and peace. But it would be best if both ISIS and Bashir Assad were gotten rid of. Then the homeless refugees would be able to go home.
War should never be undertaken lightly. But we are faced with a number of bad choices. Cleaning up the mess that has been made in the Middle East and restoring peace may be the least bad of them.