Sunday, November 01, 2015

Syria's Refugees: Job One and Job Two

Syria’s Refugees: Job One and Job Two

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, November 1, 2015, p. C4

“I didn’t think we could just sit here idly and say, ‘Let those people die.’ We wouldn’t want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”

-- Iowa’s Governor Robert D. Ray, welcoming Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian immigrants, 1975 (post Viet Nam War)

In March, 2011, Syria’s President Assad fired on peaceful Syrian, Arab Spring demonstrators. By July the demonstrators were joined by defectors from Assad’s army, renamed themselves the Free Syrian Army, and were engaged in a civil war. Soon Iran was supporting Assad; Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States came to the aid of the rebels.

Five years later, it has become a regional version of a World War III. In addition to Syria, it involves the countries of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey – and now Russia and the United States, among others. Other state-like groups include al Qaeda in Syria, Hezbollah, ISIS, Kurds, the anti-Assad rebels – plus another 100 factions – all of which switch sides and membership from time to time. Then there is the Islamic division, with Sunnis supporting the rebels and Shiites supporting Assad.

Nearly a quarter-million Syrians have been killed – most of whom were innocent civilians neither wishing for nor participating in this war. There are uncounted millions who have been injured, deprived of food or health care, and are missing family members. Homes and businesses have been destroyed, as have entire cities, leaving many without shelter or access to supplies.

The UN estimates 7.6 million Syrians (out of a pre-war population of 23 million) are now displaced within Syria, in addition to the 4 million Syrian refugees who have been able to leave.

Few if any of us have ever experienced anything remotely like what they have been through, and continue to experience.

But as we try to imagine what it must be like, one cannot watch the news of their lives, whether in Syria, or on their way elsewhere, and not be emotionally moved. What can we Iowans do to help from halfway around the world?

Iowans, like Americans in the other 49 states, have been, and continue to be, enriched by the diversity and skills of our new arrivals. The UI alone has students from 112 countries. And as the opening quote from former Governor Robert Ray reveals, Iowa has a proud history of welcoming those in need of a new home during Iowa’s recent, as well as its early years.

So it’s pretty clear what those of us within the Gazette’s circulation area can, and should do. We need to encourage our public officials to continue Iowa’s tradition – the presidential candidates, our Governor, legislators, county supervisors, and city council members. We need to work from within our churches, social service agencies, civic clubs and other organizations to build consensus – and collaboration – encouraging and preparing for their arrival.

That’s today’s job one in this crisis.

But job two still looms: trying to learn from this experience what America has apparently been unable to learn from our unwelcome military incursions into Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq – among many other countries.

The West created the Middle East. In May 1916, Mark Sykes (British), and Francois Georges-Picot (French), with Russia’s knowledge, came to a secret understanding to demolish the Ottoman Empire and draw new boundaries for French and British-administered areas.

World War III is not World War II. “Terrorism” is not a nation. If we wanted to treat it as such after 9/11 we should have been bombing and invading Saudi Arabia rather than Afghanistan and Iraq – since that’s where the money and airline hijackers came from. Our incursions have created more terrorists than have been killed.

The computer WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) in the movie “War Games” ultimately called off a thermo-nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia after being frustrated by its inability to win at tic-tack-toe. As it concluded, “the only winning move is not to play.” We have not been as wise as that computer.

The answer? It can fit on a bumper sticker: “Whatever is the question, war is not the answer.”

Nicholas Johnson, a native of Iowa City and former FCC commissioner, maintains and Contact:

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Nick said...

[This comment came as an email from a reader; posted here with permission by Nick.]

Nice column until the last line, "war is not the answer." The most
obvious answer was WWII and one could name others of a smaller scale.
Negotiations are an answer unless one side wants to subjugate or kill
the other. How does one negotiate with terrorist Muslims? Along with
the above slogan it is incumbent to suggest responsible alternatives.

Dr. Palmer Holden
Prof. Emeritus, ISU

[To which I replied, in part:

"Dr. Holden:
You are right, of course.

If only newspapers would allow more words in columns, or perhaps footnotes!

Bumper stickers are notoriously incomplete in conveying nuances."]

Nick said...

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