The Politics of Syrian Refugees

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The above appears on the Statue of Liberty and is part of a larger poem by Emma Lazarus. With its location near Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty became the symbol for new immigrants and refugees entering the United States in search of a better life. Even though the massive immigration center no longer processes new people into the country, the statue still retains its symbol for those that are yearning to be free. Yet it would appear that the quote above doesn’t apply to the 21st century… at least to some.

Syria has been bogged down in a civil war since the Arab Spring. In the past couple of years, a new terrorist group (ISIS) has emerged as a major threat both to the stability of Syria and neighboring Iraq and to the western world. It has become a confusing mix of who is fighting who. (The following video tries to simplify the ongoing war in Syria. https://www.facebook.com/ezraklein/videos/10153737513773410/)

On November 13, Islamic extremists went on a rampage throughout Paris killing 129 people. It turns out that one of those responsible is a Syrian refugee that got into France with thousands of other refugees that have been entering Europe as the war in Syria has escalated. This was one out of thousands yet there is no way to determine if there are more. It was always a concern that ISIS would try to slip agents into Europe and the US through the mass migration of Syrian refugees. It would appear that at least one did and possibly others, but it may not warrant the mass hysteria that seems to be coming from this horrible event.

The rest of the attackers that night, though still Muslim extremists, were European nationalists. As Republican governors, members of Congress, and even candidates for President have started foaming at the mouth about not accepting any Syrian refugees now, they say absolutely nothing about allowing Europeans into the country. These are the same Republicans that say one can’t blame all law-abiding gun owners any time there is a mass shooting. Yet somehow they are going to accuse all Syrian refugees because of one terrorist that came in with all the others.

Governors throughout the US have been declaring that they will not accept Syrian refugees within their state. This is more political posturing than reality. The Refugee Act of 1980, which was an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, created explicit procedures on how to deal with refugees entering the US by creating a uniform resettlement and absorption policy. Basically this makes it a federal matter, not a state. So all of these governors have no real say. Once someone has been approved and is allowed to enter the US, they are free to move about the country and settle wherever they would like just the same as anyone else.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, under new House Speaker Paul Ryan, are preparing legislation to halt Syrian refugees. It’s unclear as to whether such a bill would pass the Senate where Democrats can still filibuster. And it’s more likely to get a veto from President Obama if it were to reach his desk. Republicans need to tread more carefully and watch their words and their tone though. According to an article on POLITICO, faith-based groups as well as Evangelical Christians are largely in favor of the Syrian refugees.

The words of President Franklin Roosevelt come to mind. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear and hate aren’t the answers. True, we can’t tell which of the refugees are good and which might be members of ISIS or another extremist group. But we can’t even say that about our own citizens. We have to remember that 99% of those that are coming to this country are in search of safety and a better life… something that was ripped away from them in their home country.

In early 2015, several Bosnian refugees that had settled in St. Louis in the 1990s were arrested for sending money and military supplies to terrorist groups overseas. Did this mean that all the Bosnian refugees that entered our country were terrorists and should be deported? Of course not. Just a few bad apples in a community that has been a valuable asset to the city as a whole.

According to the American Immigration Council, the United States took in approximately 70,000 refugees in 2014 (the same as 2013). Almost half have came from the Near East/South Asia which includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, and Afghanistan. The cap for the number of refugees is set at 70,000 for 2015 as well.

Our nation has always been a melting pot of different people. It makes our culture quite unique as we have found a way to blend it all together. There have been times when immigrants and refugees haven’t been given a fair chance… the Irish, Catholics, Italians, Eastern Europeans, etc. In the end, the fear that was largely rampant was proven mostly unfounded. The vast majority melted into our society. The new Syrian refugees will be no different than those that have come before.

Sure we all want to feel safe and protected. The majority of those refugees want the same thing. Is it possible that a member of ISIS could slip in? Sure. But they could always slip in another way, too, or influence an American citizen. We know the latter has happened already. We can’t blame all Syrians any more than we can blame all Americans. It is a risk we take, but it is part of our values as well. And we can’t lose sight of those. We must rise above hate and fear to see the bigger picture… the humanitarian aspect.

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Of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: An Act of Treason?

There’s nothing like a slight treasonous scandal to pull a political writer out of a little sabbatical. When hearing of this, I didn’t think it was something that I could sit on the sidelines for. So here I am immersing myself in a political debate that should have bigger ramifications than it probably will.

Treason is defined in the dictionary as:

1. the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
2. a violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state.
3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

It is the only crime that is specifically mentioned in the US Constitution. (Article 3, Section 3)

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

Keep your mind on what you just read as there is a possibility that you will be contemplating them as we go through this whole ordeal.

The United States has been negotiating for a nuclear agreement with Iran since 2006 along with 5 other countries which is known as the P5+1 group. The five countries are the US, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China, and the +1 being Germany. The goal is to keep Iran from having nuclear missiles. In 2013, and interim agreement was reached with a comprehensive agreement due later this month.

With the deadline approaching some Senators have expressed concern over what a final comprehensive deal might look like and have a desire for the final deal to be debated on voted on in the Senate as a treaty would be under Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution. However, freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark) has gone even a step further by submitting a letter with 46 other signatures of Republican Senators to the leader of Iran expressing that any nuclear treaty with the country would not be upheld once President Obama leaves office.

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Now let me bring in the Logan Act which was passed by Congress in 1799. It prohibits unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. Violation of this act is a felony.

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

Under Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution, “[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…” The President has the power to appoint ambassadors and to conduct negotiations with foreign governments. The Senate does not come in to the equation until the vote for approval is needed. By this, Senator Cotton does not have the authority to approach Iran on any subject that is concurrent with the ongoing negotiations. To have done so is a violation of the Logan Act.

According to a recent article on Politico, this is not the first time that one party has accused the other of violating the Logan Act. Republicans screamed it in 1987 after Congress cut off aid to Nicaragua’s Contra rebels. Democrats ran (and ultimately won both chambers of Congress) in 2006 on forcing then-President George W. Bush to come up with a timetable for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Speaker Pelosi would also go against the wishes of the White House in 2007 and travel to Damascus to meet with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

So where does all of this then fall in? If it has been done before then should we just brush it aside again? In this case, I would suggest no. It does violate international law. It does undermine the full faith and credit of the US, which is already shaky in the world as it is especially in regards to Iran where neither side completely trusts the other. Senator Cotton had no authority to write and send that letter which was in an effort to derail negotiations with a foreign government before a final deal is reached. It was out of his jurisdiction as a US Senator.

Remember those definitions of treason at the beginning? If this isn’t it then it comes dangerously close to that line. The overall goal of the letter was to do harm and to instill a sense of a betrayal of trust and confidence against our country.

US Involvement Against the Threat of ISIL

Americans are war weary.  The nation has been at war since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  We have been involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Libya during its uprising.  For the past couple of years, we have even been “secretly” shipping arms to rebels in Syria.

As we finally see our troops coming home from Afghanistan, in what has become this nation’s longest war, we are now talking about Iraq once again.  This time it isn’t the nation as it is a group that calls itself ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).  It has also been referred to as ISIS.  It comes from Syria and has crossed the border into Iraq taking one town after another in sweeping fashion.

A couple of months ago, the United States began bombing ISIL targets on the ground.  First, it was to protect a minority group of Yazidis who are ancient Mesopotamian.  Then we began to assist the Kurds as they fought for their own survival in northern Iraq.

But where has the rest of the Iraqi army been?  The one that we spent billions training and equipping?  As ISIL swept through the country, they fled… some even without firing a shot.  And to make it even worse, they left behind the equipment that we left for them which includes tanks that ISIL now has and that we now bomb.

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President Obama has spoken with congressional leaders and has asked for approval before committing to a larger international mission that he laid out in a speech to the American people on Wednesday night.  But how much support is there from Congress or the American people?  Though we are only a couple of months away from an election, and Congress would like to duck this issue altogether, the stakes are too high and it is likely that they will indeed support such intervention.  The real question is whether the American people support such action.

We don’t tend to have the greatest luck in picking sides in the region.  We have supported authoritarian dictators in the region such as Egypt and Iraq.  In Iraq, we had to overthrow the regime; whereas, the people of Egypt overthrew theirs.  We support the Saudis and the regime in Bahrain though both are authoritarian.  We even overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in the 1950s to install the Shah who would be overthrown in 1979 by the Iranian people.

When civil war broke out in Syria, we didn’t want to get involved.  We didn’t know who the rebels were that we’d be helping.  There were too many factions.  It was only have chemical weapons were used that the world began to take more notice and an active role.

In the US, there were calls from members of Congress (Senator John McCain being one of them) that called for arming the Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime.  Interesting enough that ISIL comes from some of those Syrian factions that we were originally so worried about arming, and they still got American weapons when they invaded a destabilized Iraq and swept from town to town.

Now here we find ourselves again getting involved.  The President claims no actual combat troops on the ground just advisers though that is exactly how our involvement in Vietnam started.  Arming Syrian rebels has also come back into the discussion.  But exactly who would we be arming?  Even Senator McCain has called for helping Syrian President Assad deal with ISIL in Syria.  This sounds like a complete 180 from just last year.  Maybe we should just admit that in Syria, we shouldn’t support either side.

The members of ISIL aren’t just coming from Iraq and Syria or even other nations in the region.  They are also coming from western Europe, the United States, etc.  They are our own citizens with passports that can come and go as they choose making it easier for them to be trained to bring the organization into our own nations.

President Obama mentioned a broad international coalition including Arab nations that also see ISIL as a threat to the region.  It is important to have those nations in this coalition.   Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the region trying to shore up more support from those nations and work out plans.  This does include Iraq and helping bring the Sunni minority of that country into a government role.

A hundred years ago, World War I broke out across Europe.  Interesting how we are still putting out the fires from that great conflict here in 2014.  ISIL is a threat to the US, and they have already made sure that we get the message loud and clear.  Our involvement is crucial.  However, we must start realizing that we cannot arm people in other countries especially in this particular region.  Somehow we always seem to spend billions of dollars to destroy it all in the end.

Again, as I stated at the beginning, we are a war weary nation.  We have spent trillions of dollars in this region to evoke “change” and here we continue to do so.  We have seen what a well-organized terrorist group can do if we don’t take the necessary precautions.  We don’t need to relive that day again.  The nation is poised to enter the fray with a specific goal.  It will not be quick, and it will not be cheap, and it’s doubtful that in the end we will learn from our mistakes of the past.

Genocide: The Modern Religious War

When one hears of genocide, most often The Holocaust comes to mind first.  Some of us are old enough though to remember such atrocities in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda in the 1990s.  The latter marked 20-years just last week.  Each time that we hear of such things we always say, “Never again.”  But each time that it happens, we tend to turn a blind eye to it as if ignoring the situation will make it better or go away.

In Rwanda, it was the Hutus and Tutsis that were trying to eradicate the each other.  In Kosovo, it was ethnic Albanians versus ethnic Serbs.  And in Bosnia, there were Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosniaks all fighting each other. With history as hindsight, it was our first glimpse of the larger Christian vs. Muslim conflict that was playing out around the world… something we would be brought into more directly with the attacks on September 11, 2001.

With each of those instances we still stated, “Never again.”  And yet, even today we turn  a blind eye to the genocide of our world.  Now it’s happening in the Central African Republic (CAR) and has Christians (anti-balaka) and Muslims (Seleka) attempting to wipe out each other.  This conflict has been going on since December 2012 and has largely been skipped by western media outlets with the exception of a few scattered reports.

Courtesty: cia.gov

Courtesy: cia.gov

In December 2012, the mostly Muslim Seleka forces began a coup against the government which culminated in a seizure of power in March 2013.  They would remain in power for 10-months and during that time, according to Amnesty International, they “were responsible for massacres, extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, looting, and massive burning and destruction of Christian villages.”

The President of the new government, Michel Djotodia, declared the Seleka disbanded in September 2013 though most of the militias refused to disband.  But as such atrocities mounted, he resigned in January  2014 due in large part to regional pressure.  A new interim government was formed and a new interim president was elected on January 20th.  US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has flown to CAR to meet with the interim president who still has very little power or control of the situation.

With the Seleka forces now in retreat, the Christian forces (Anti-balaka) are now committing the same offenses against the Muslim communities as had been done to them.  And the Seleka forces are still committing the same attacks on Christian communities as they retreat.  It’s a slaughter running right down the religious divide of Muslim vs. Christian.

In February 2014, Amnesty International released a report that stated, “International peacekeepers have failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians int he western part of the Central African Republic.”  It went on to further criticize the tepid response from the international community to the situation.

My father, Soba Tibati, could hardly walk and could not run away when the anti-balaka attacked our village.  They decapitated him in front of my eyes as he sat on a straw mat under a tree outside our hut.  Twelve other members of my family were also massacred in the same attack.  The youngest was a baby girl who was just six months old.
Dairu Soba, survivor of an attack by anti-balaka fighters on January 8.
Courtesy: Amnesty International

On April 10, 2014, the United Nations passed Security Council resolution 2149 which authorized the deployment of a multidimensional United Nations peacekeeping operation (MINUSCA) with the protection of civilians as its top priority.  Other tasks include, “support for the transition process; facilitating humanitarian assistance; promotion and protection of human rights; support for justice and the rule of law; and disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation processes.”

Regardless, the world can no longer ignore and turn a blind eye to the ongoing situation in the Central African Republic.  Genocide is still genocide regardless of who is committing the atrocity.  We should never utter the words, “Never again” as we should put a stop to genocide at any moment that it arises.  Instead we should look to the motto, “Not now; not ever.

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