Over 11 million Syrians have been displaced since the beginning of March 2011. The civil war has taken over 200,000 lives, leaving the population as well as its vital infrastructure in complete disarray. According to the BBC, 80 percent of the population now lives in poverty. Four million have fled the country, a number that will only increase until the violence stops. Thousands upon thousands of others are fleeing from Iraq, Eritrea, and Libya. The U.S. is currently playing a major role in the Syrian conflict—we support the rebels both financially and militarily: some $800 million has been spent by the U.S. government so far, according to a study done by the Congressional Research Service.
By supporting the rebels, the U.S. is fueling the war and causing the displacement of millions of Syrians. Regardless of whether or not our support for the rebels is justified, which is an entirely different question, we must take responsibility for the destruction being led by those we have armed. So far, our attempts at negotiating peace between Syria and the rebels have been at best pathetic and at worst nonexistent. The Geneva II talks broke down almost within ten days and no serious attempts have been made since.
Even worse, the composition of the countries supporting either side is terrifyingly similar to proxy wars fought during the height of the Cold War. China, Russia, the Czech Republic, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah make up those supporting the current government of Assad; the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia all support the rebels. Put this together with the Ukraine crisis and tension with Russia is at an extreme high; just this week Ashton Carter, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, accused Vladimir Putin of “putting gasoline on the fire” in response to Russia’s first series of air strikes, which, according to Russia, were launched against ISIS, and according to the U.S., were launched against the rebels.
Either way, they undoubtedly killed innocent civilians—which, unsurprisingly, the U.S. was immediately critical of. Casualties of innocents are horrible, but for the U.S. to pounce upon Russia for it is absurdly hypocritical, for we are far and above the biggest proponent and user of drones and airstrikes across the world. This is another reason why peace in Syria is so crucial; if tensions continue to rise at their current rate, we may well be looking at another version of the Cold War. Though it may not happen under threat of a nuclear holocaust, it will still be terrifying, and that will hold implications for the entire world, not just the U.S. and Russia.
Both to acknowledge our responsibility in the crises, and because of the moral necessity of the issue in general, the U.S. must accept more refugees. If Germany can accept 800,000 when it is a quarter of our size, then we can certainly take in more than the 75,000 we have committed to. Most of the four million displaced refugees reside in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan, while only 1,434 are currently in the U.S., an absurd figure considering the relative wealth of those countries compared to that of the U.S.
Originally the U.S. had planned to take in 65,000 refugees from all over the world during the 2015 year. Due to the increasingly negative downward spiral of the Syrian situation, it has upped its quota by 10,000. But this is just one quarter of one percent of the 4 million Syrian refugees. It’s absolutely meaningless.
If we were in the middle of a civil war and half of our country’s 300 million citizens were displaced, do you think we would be satisfied if one of our key allies pledged to take in a quarter of one percent of us? We would be absolutely outraged. But sadly, this is something that you can get away with when you happen to be the most powerful country in the world, and the country in desperate need of your assistance is one of the weakest. It is an all-too-familiar example of those in need turning to those in power for help, and being all but ignored.
The U.S. has been a mighty power since the end of World War II. It has used its economic, military, and political sway to influence and often overthrow governments across the world. There is not a single country on the international scale that doesn’t question the potential U.S. reaction when evaluating its own plans. However, we have failed to acknowledge and act upon the responsibility that comes with that power. We have continually gotten our hands dirty across the globe, and very, very rarely have we even attempted to clean up the constant messes we leave in our wake. Our reputation has become that of a selfish child: We use other countries when we need them and toss them aside afterwards, leaving them in desolation with only the promises we failed to keep.
The refugee crisis is a chance for the U.S. to begin making amends for the havoc it has wreaked across the globe. It is a chance to begin ruling by right instead of ruling by might. It is time to replace predator missiles with care packages, tanks with schools, guns with clean water.
Casey Goodwin PO ’19 is currently undeclared and interested in a career in activism and politics.