As thousands of Syrians continue streaming into Europe, some Western powers are scrambling to accommodate them. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is boasting about her plan to bring in 800,000 immediately and up to 500,000 annually for several years, although the warm welcome brought such a crush over the weekend that her government has had to actually close its borders temporarily. The government acknowledges the influx will “change our country.”
Sweden’s prime minister is welcoming immigrants, too. Canada and the United Kingdom will help, although they plan to bring in considerably fewer. Now the Obama administration has announced it wants the United States to accept the “ambitious goal” of 10,000.
But others are not celebrating this hasty decision-making in the face of a humanitarian crisis (whether they are refugees or migrants, as I wrote about recently here). Southern European countries are balking because they have to process all these people and endure their trek through their countries. Denmark’s new right-wing government is so exercised it has taken out ads in Lebanese papers warning would-be migrants that they are not welcome.
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Then there are the localities and communities in various countries who have to accept immigrants whether or not they are prepared or willing—such as the people of Michigan and California. Small wonder that parties and activists in both Europe and the United States that demand policy reforms are gaining followers. The influx will go on for years, as will the political and policy fights.
Yet we are treated to admissions of surprise by people who should have known better. Julie Smith, former deputy national security advisor for Vice President Biden, as well as Ambassador Robert Ford, who served in Syria under Obama, have said recently that no one expected so many refugees to come out of Syria, even as the administration was focused on national-security policy for the region. How could anyone not appreciate that what was happening in Syria and Iraq (and Libya and Yemen) could well lead to a mass exodus? Years of violence and economic devastation don’t have consequences?
After all, the Obama administration includes Susan Rice and Samantha Power. The former has had plenty of experience at State, and the White House had to have informed her well enough. Power is a noted expert on refugees and the “responsibility to protect.” She is all about prevention of just this kind of disaster. When you combine this foreign-policy failure with unwise immigration policies in the West, you get a human wave.
Naïve Immigration Policies
As to those immigration policies, suffice to say that Western countries in general have been both generous to a fault and naïve. Germany opens its doors wider than any other country, apparently out of a desire to improve its image (Merkel has gone from being compared to Hitler over the specter of a Grexit to “Mama Merkel”) and definitely to overcome a birth dearth. Other countries have similar attitudes that have intensified as this crisis heats up.
But the whole of European Union policy on immigration is causing a problem, too. It is chaotic, but what is causing the immediate problem is that the EU essentially has open borders among member states, so immigrants who make it to one country and get asylum can travel to other countries. Would-be immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East have a great incentive to make the trek if countries like Germany and Sweden are waving them on to partake of their generous welfare and labor policies.
But this is also naïve, some say: immigration at these levels of people with a history of not assimilating and not being asked to assimilate courts social and political disaster and sometimes security incidents, as much of Europe has been experiencing (the Charlie Hebdo example being just one of many). These countries appear to believe that masses of immigrants who are useful for fixing their image and population problems will not simultaneously cause other problems by being difficult to assimilate. Merkel’s intelligence services appear to hold the contrary view and some in her government are wary of how much change they can handle.
Weakness Increases Conflict
As to the foreign policy of Western countries, there is much blame to go around. The West prioritized rapprochement with Iran above all else—with the Obama administration leading from the front, for a change. Whether one examines our withdrawal policy in Iraq, our dithering in Syria, or our absence from the chaos in Yemen, every national-security interest has been subordinated to the holy grail of making a deal that Iran would accept. If that means Iran has a free hand to coopt Iraq, promote terrorism, save Assad’s bloody regime, and support its Shia allies in Yemen, so be it.
The logic of the deal Obama made with Iran over its nuclear ambitions fails at every turn, including the administration’s naïve hope that the key to peace in the Middle East is to bring Iran in from the cold and make it a partner for stability. (NB: Stability—if that’s all you want—can often be achieved if you acquiesce to aggressors.)
What has this gotten us? More conflicts, not fewer, with the resulting mass exodus of people fleeing violence and unending poverty and economic stagnation. The Syrian dictator and the civil war he launched is the root of the problem in the region. More than a quarter of a million dead, more than four million displaced, all straining the resources of states in the region and now Europe and soon the United States. Iraq is in almost as bad a shape because one of our worst terrorist enemies, the Islamic State, is thriving and actually controls territory.
Blame ISIS and Assad, But Not Just Them
In short, all the bad guys have been emboldened and unimpeded so the region is on fire. What is the worst strategic outcome that likely will lead to years of death and destruction? Russia is back in the Middle East offering diplomatic support, selling weapons, and is actually in Syria now, setting up an air base. The Obama White House is divided over what to do about it, having boxed themselves in with their Iran-focused foreign policy. They are at the mercy of the ayatollah and Putin now, and those two have as their goal safeguarding the Assad regime, with all the attendant havoc that creates.
This was not supposed to be the outcome of the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s enlightened foreign policy with which Europe’s leaders wholeheartedly agreed. His team represented the hope for peace because they didn’t “do stupid stuff.” But it is hard to label anything other than stupid a foreign policy that increases conflicts and their intensities, which in turn produces a historic humanitarian crisis for which leaders were not prepared.
In sum, this crisis should have been expected, and blame falls on both the forces of evil in the Middle East as well as Western policymakers. We are in for a long season of reaping what we have sown. We should blame the aggressors and bloodthirsty dictators plenty; but we must also hold accountable Western leaders who have so botched foreign and immigration policies.