Thursday, November 19, 2015

Guest Post: The Difference We Make


Addressed to current arguments regarding Canada's decision to accept twenty five thousand refugees before Christmas.
 
Taking in twenty five thousand refugees before Christmas will not make a great difference in alleviating the suffering in the world. I could demonstrate this with gumballs. It would be more effective for us to help them where they are, you say. Those refugees should stay in their countries and work to make them better instead of bringing their problems to us.
 
But I wonder if you have considered what a difficult proposal that is.
 
Let us consider just the case of Syria. The combatants are Bashar Al-Assad’s government on one side and ISIL (or whatever) on the other side.
 
The west has been engaging in two ways: first by finding and arming groups of “moderate” insurgents and secondly with airstrikes. There has not, so far, been the political will in the west to fully engage on the ground. Add to that the fact that western military interventions have a history of making things worse and there is very little reason for refugees to stay.
 
The airstrikes are not enough. They may be disruptive and annoying, but they will not, by themselves, neutralize ISIL. Arming the “moderates” has proved difficult since they are now becoming increasingly difficult to find. Many “moderates” are now fighting on the side of ISIL while others have themselves become refugees, leaving their American supplied weapons in the hands of ISIL. It seems that Russia’s pragmatic strategy of supporting Bashar Al-Assad’s military against ISIL is the only coherent option in the muddle but the west finds this option unsavoury and politically untenable. Western allies have teamed with Iraqi Kurds to fight against ISIL, which is an attractive option because supporting the Kurds does not strengthen Bashar Al-Assad’s government. What many forget, however, is that while the Kurds are allies in Syria and Iraq, the United States government considers Kurdish groups in Turkey to be terrorists because of the PKK’s independence movement in that country. Without getting too deep into it, supporting any Kurdish groups indirectly supports terrorism because the Kurds in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey all have the same goal: an independent Kurdish state carved out from the territories of those three states (of course, nobody cares about the territory this Kurdish state will carve out of Syria and Iraq). Furthermore, the Kurds are no friends of the Syrian people, and will not move into ISIL-controlled Syrian territory as “liberators”.
 
So Syria’s “Moderates” are caught between the government of Bashar Al-Assad, supported by Russia on one side and ISIL on the other. Also consider that some of the other actors in the area are Iranian proxies and the Iranian-supported terrorist organization,Hezbollah. Do you propose that Syria's "Moderates" arm themselves with sticks and stones to fight against both their government and ISIL? Even if they were armed and supported by the West, their chances of success are slim. These are civilians—even the men among them—not trained soldiers. The more fanatical or the more steadfast among them might fight but even making contact with representatives of the West to procure weapons and training is difficult and has its own risks. The rest, if they stay, risk having their neighbourhoods bombed by government airstrikes, bulldozed by government tanks or ravaged and burned by terrorists. Or maybe they already have lost their homes, maybe they have already tried fighting. For many—not all, certainly, but many—the options are few; they see leaving the area as the best they can do.
 
What would you do? Would you stay and fight, knowing your wife and children would have to stay too? Or would you send your wife and children alone to risk the journey across thousands of unfriendly miles by foot and boat while you stay behind to fight for your country—even though you don’t know what a good outcome might be in that fight or that one is even possible? You might stay, but you certainly could not fault your neighbours for leaving.
 
You say we should help them where they are, but how? Do you want your government to move the ground forces and machinery it would take to beat back ISIL? And even then, we’d still have the miry problem of Bashar Al-Assad’s government, supported by Russia. So far, the overwhelming majority of westerners do not want their governments to engage on the ground. Canada’s government has decided to remove its fighter-bombers from the fight, choosing instead to send more trainers on the ground to team up with the Kurds. Both the airstrikes and the training are token measures. Nothing we’re doing so far is helping the Syrian “Moderates” and there are no good options for us to begin to help them where they are—at least none that are politically viable. Airstrikes are not enough, as stated previously, it would take a comprehensive ground war to make Syria safe again. So Canada’s decision to remove its fighter-bombers from the fight is just as good a decision as any. Especially since Canadian airstrikes have been blamed for causing civilian casualties.
 
Do you oppose the decision to remove the fighter-bombers because you are not interested, really, in helping anybody, you just want to feel like you’re doing something without having to give them refuge here?
 
Do we really want to be on the side that turns away those who seek refuge? We’ve been there before—in the 1930s Canada turned away boatloads of refugees from Europe who later died in the ocean—and it is an embarrassment to us. In the 1930s Nazi Germany offered its unwanted to any country that would take them and all the countries of the west politely declined. In our defense, you say, we didn’t know what was going on! Yes, we didn’t know because we didn’t care to know.
 
There’s so little we can do in the form of effective solutions for the Syrian people in Syria. The best we can do for them is let them come. We are a country of immigrants. It makes no sense for us, who happened to have the good fortune of coming here earlier, to turn away those who would come after us.
 
To take in the refugees may not make a great difference compared to the many, many millions who will remain suffering outside our borders but it will make a vast difference for those we let in and it's the only option that makes a permanent difference without engaging the military.

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