Tuesday, September 03, 2013

One Christian's Proposed Compromise for Action on Syria: Drop Barriers, Not Bombs

Instead of dropping bombs, why not remove the quota on visas granted to Syrians to live and work in the U.S.?  We would open the door for tens of thousands to improve their lot rather than live for years in limbo or be forced to return to a dangerous situation. That would be a lot cheaper than an airstrike that may or may kill and might not deter further chemical weapons use. What better way to lead by example than to say "Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"?
Why not also help airlift refugees here (similar to what we did in 1975 when Saigon fell)? Right, now a Syrian refugee has to find a way to travel (and be granted entry) to far-away places like Berlin, Rome, and Vienna in order just to apply for asylum in the U.S. That doesn't strike me as very practical or hospitable.

Law professor Peter Schuck made a similar argument in the Wall Street Journal in March 2012. He argued that we give sworn defectors asylum in Western countries until Assad fell, in return for the refugee returning to rebuild Syria after Assad fell.  Schuck points out that under the Refugee Act of 1980, the President may exceed statutory refugee quotas-- that's what I think we should do for all Syrians who want it, not just people who will swear to return when Assad falls (the chaos could be worse after Assad falls).

In 1938, news of growing violence against Jews in Nazi-occupied Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia was being widely reported in the U.S. A poll taken at the time showed 80% of Americans were against doing anything-- including expanding visas for Europeans. FDR combined quotas from Germany and Austria, which saved the lives of several thousand Jews in 1939. (FDR had a mixed record on Jewish refugees, documented here). I think history suggests we should have done more at the time-- German statements at the time show Hitler would gladly have given the U.S. all the Jews it could handle-- with the Fuhrer paying for the shipping himself (info taken from this book on the period). I see the Syrian situation (and Darfur, and other ethnic cleansing horrors) as similar to Europe and Japanese-occupied China in 1938-- Western powers reeling from slow economic growth and bitter about the previous war didn't want to take any steps to confront the problem. If we really care about the human rights of the most vulnerable, shouldn't we open our doors to them?

Might pro-democratic Syrian opposition be better organized and able to use the Internet from the U.S. than from a tent camp on the Turkish border? Might we be able to show that we're not interfering in Syrian politics purely out of a goal to strike Iran or gain oil or some other non-humanitarian motive?

"What about terrorists, won't they come too?" was one objection raised over Twitter. Well, the U.S. currently has a screening process that keeps terrorists out. Syrians are largely moderate in their religious beliefs, and how many Syrian terrorists have we dealt with compared to Saudis or Yemenis? I suspect that the number of grateful, peaceful Syrians would far outnumber those who might take advantage to do harm. I'm not calling for a blanket open door, just to open the door wider than it is currently, and to expedite the process.

18 months ago, I was an advocate for strong multinational intervention in Syria, to prevent the country from descending into further genocide-fostering, infrastructure-destroying, refugee-creating brutal civil war that might lead to chemical weapons usage. Now, attempts to impose peace would be much more costly, and the required international will and resources aren't there. Syria's neighbors aren't wealthy democracies with long histories of incorporating immigrants into a melting pot. This is where the U.S. can lead.

1 comment:

Hamilton Bard said...

Intervention in Syria may hurt the Democrats politically. Once military involvement starts, it can expand out of control, and most Americans do not see a good reason for us to be involved in someone else's civil war.