image courtesy of dailysignal.com
The answer to the Syrian refugee crisis is Iraq. As Secretary of State Colin Powell famously warned President George W. Bush, “If you break it, you own it.” (Read that whole article, by the way, because Colin Powell is one of the great American Generals and he speaks the truth.) We have many allies in the region and they are doing everything they can to help us. Turkey is housing nearly 2 million refugees (half of whom are children.) That’s 10% of Syria’s pre-war population. Jordan has embraced almost 650,000, which means that 10% of Jordan’s total population is now Syrian refugees.
Lebanon (not an ally) has accepted 1.1 million refugees. Lebanon and Israel are in the midst of a Cold War. As a result, the United States offers Lebanon no assistance, even though 25% of their population is now Syrian refugees. The children keep coming, and Lebanon keeps housing, feeding, and sheltering them, even though their resources are well beyond the breaking point. Even Iran has been sending aid, as much as they are able, to fellow members of the Red Crescent Society (think Red Cross for Muslims.)
Why isn’t Iran accepting refugees? Because Iraq is in the way, physically, and quite frankly, Iraq is where the danger is coming from. The Syrian people did not decide one summer evening to move to Europe en masse. They are fleeing the bloodthirsty chaos which rules in the absence of government. This was our great mistake in Iraq, a mistake General Powell foresaw and warned against. President Bush signed the U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement in 2008. As a result, the Iraqi army became a bargaining chip in the Shia-Sunni schism.
When Daesh murderers show off their Humvees and American-made rifles and claim “this is where we get our weapons,” what they mean is that we trained and equipped a capable Iraqi army, and then corrupt Iraqi leaders forced out good soldiers based on religious beliefs, resulting in an unprepared fighting force. The new, ideologically sound yet untrained and unseasoned, forces are quick to surrender, leaving behind the weapons which we supplied them. We are, in effect, arming our adversary. Again.
The fact that Daesh is not expanding into any bordering territory besides Iraq is telling. The fact that Iran is providing material support for Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, despite Iran’s continued suffering under punishing international sactions, is more telling. The fact that Russia is attempting to prop up the existing Syrian regime without ruffling Israeli/American feathers is the most telling of all. We all have a common enemy, the chaos, the pure state of war that is possible only in a power vacuum.
There is a new historical model, posited by Timothy Snyder, which allows us to understand Hitler as an anarchist, whose most evil impulses were only possible in the absense of The State as we know it. It’s like a perverted version of Locke or Rousseau, wherein mankind naturally engages in war, and somehow the Jews stopped it by implementing the rule of law. In Hitler’s twisted mind this is a bad thing. When the Soviet Union repels his onslaught, he attributes it to the vast Jewish Conspiracy. When Britain defies his siege, he attributes it to the vast Jewish conspiracy.
His dream comes to fruition in the stateless conquered territories to the east, Poland and Ukraine. He cannot commit genocide in Germany, because the rule of law is necessary, but in the neighboring conquered territories, he can. When it becomes clear that he cannot win the war, his unhinged thinking leads him to conclude that the best course of action is to export Jews to these lawless places where mass murder is possible. It is the lawlessness which allows the evil to thrive.
Daesh is thriving on this lawlessness, moving between Syria and Iraq, spreading chaos and death with violent glee. The chaos in Syria cannot be extinguished unless the chaos in Iraq is extinguished. It is one uninterrupted chaos. We broke it. We own it. A civil war in Syria was likely inevitable, given the extreme food shortages. However, we sowed the seeds of chaos on their eastern border, and we share the blame for the nasty wrong turn their revolution took, because their most ruthless and dangerous elements were germinated in Iraqi soil.
Assad’s governmental failure is not our fault, but we must take responsibility for the rise of Daesh. That’s new. After the 2001 terror attack, we created Guantanamo Bay and other secret prisons, implemented CIA torture, implemented anytime/anywhere drone strikes, and basically waged global war on unspecified targets, mainly Muslims. And then, because abandoning our founding principles wasn’t bad enough, we selected a scapegoat nation/state, Iraq.
Of course, Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction. We sold them those weapons, intending them to be used against Iran by Saddam Hussein. When the honorable General Colin Powell (honorable because he served his country, not in the ironic Shakespearean sense) announced, “We know where the weapons are,” what he really meant was, “we know to whom we sold the weapons.” Use of chemical weapons was the primary justification for intervention in Syria. Where did those weapons come from?
Daesh is an irrational, gruesome, and desperate response to a failed foreign policy. It’s not the right answer, but in the face of an existential threat such as the one posed by the full might of the NATO-alliance-plus-Russia-plus-China, it has a certain appeal for Muslims, especially impoverished middle eastern Muslims. If we want to win this war, we must reestablish the rule of law. We must restore balance to the force, and we must begin where it was first unbalanced, in Iraq.
For more than a decade, my education in Catholic schools included frequent references to the Second Pope John Paul’s vehement and unflinching objection to the sanctions imposed upon the people of Iraq. It is widely acknowledged that the sanctions disproportionately affected children. Pope JP2 cited a conservative estimate that 100,000 children died as a direct result of sanctions. UNICEF estimates that over 500,000 children under five years of age died as a direct result of sanctions.
Sanctions are the modern equivalent of siegeworks. We implement them knowing that they are a weapon of war, albeit a silent one, which forces the opponent to accept terms of surrender. This weapon is far more powerful than American politicians are willing to admit. Saddam Hussein once said that he would have accepted a security pact with the United States on almost any terms in exchange for the lifting of brutal sanctions. His only reason for refusing access to UN weapons inspectors was his fear of retaliation by Iran if his dire straits were known to them.
Iran is now in the same position. They cannot surrender because they are ruled by fear. They must appear strong because they feel pressed by enemies on all sides. U.S. forces are closing from the west. Chinese forces are closing from the east. Terrorist madmen are provoking both sides, bringing destruction to their doorstep. They are under siege and some idiot is shooting bottle rockets from the parapets. We know what happened in Iraq. We broke it, we own it, and it’s way too expensive for us to be happy about it. Let’s not make the same mistake again. Iran is not Iraq. Their democracy has two parties. Give peace a chance.
I realized that I have offered no real solutions. How do we fix Iraq? How do we fix Syria? The answer that the Second Pope John Paul would give is that we don’t. We are caregivers. We do not have the cure. Only God has the cure. We can only do that which is in our power, treat our fellow humans with respect, make decisions based on our commitment to justice, and when in doubt, when we find ourselves in a quagmire with no exit strategy, act as if we love each other like family, trust, forgive, share, and hope. Beyond that, there are no answers, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.