I’m betting that everyone has seen the heart-breaking pictures of that little boy who washed up dead on the beach in Turkey – that picture plus the scenes of tens of thousands of people flooding into Europe has caught the attention of the world. This is because our modern world isn’t a place of thought and knowledge, but of emotions and impressions…and the picture of a dead child gives us an emotional impression…and demands that we “do something” get us off the hook, oddly enough, from having to actually do something (if we make a demand, in the modern mind, that is equivalent to action). But we do need to actually think about this – and then we really need to do something.
The refugee crisis is the result of the failure of the nations of the Middle East. No one went in there and made these people start fighting like mad. This was a conscious choice of the people there – no, not all of them, but enough of them to matter (and even those who didn’t want this also, in a sense, choose it – because they didn’t fight against the mad men, and each insane fighter has to have two or three non-fighters to support him in his efforts). This isn’t the legacy of Imperialism; this isn’t the result of Israel existing; this isn’t because we fought in Iraq – this is because of the people there deciding, all on their own, upon a course of action. The people of the Middle East failed, not the United States; not Europe, not the world.
It is worthwhile to note that the Middle East is not this monolithic entity. To be sure, most of them claim some version of Islam as their theology, but the place is actually made up of the ethnic flotsam and jetsam of 5,000 years of human migration into the Middle East; there are vastly different underlying cultures in the Middle East – just as Europeans have a lot in common but there are vast differences between, say, French and Bulgarian people. The passions within Islam have been held down for most of Islam’s history – invariably by a power which could apply enough force to convince everyone that peace is sweeter than freedom. Up to modern times, it was the Ottoman Turks who held them down; the Turks were briefly succeeded by European empires and then by various strong men. That has ended – and the people there are fighting it out; and there doesn’t seem to be any large force of people who are fighting for an Islam where everyone just goes their own way and lets everyone else just live and let live.
There are three courses of action:
1. Stay out – and that means, also, not allowing the people to come to Europe and the United States.
2. Go in – all the way in, with a massive military force. Pick a side we want to win and then fight until everyone opposed to that side is dead or taken.
3. Go on as we are – maybe a bit of military action; maybe a bit of half-hearted support for people we think might be ok; maybe a bit of diplomacy to try and broker deals between the sides.
The first choice means the war goes on; perhaps to a conclusion, perhaps to mutual exhaustion…but in either case, with plenty of very bad actors still around to cause trouble, including terrorism trouble in the West. The second choice means millions of men and women under arms in the Middle East for years – fighting a cruel war against forces which have no respect for common, human decency. The third choice means the war goes on, the refugees continue to flood into the West and vast amounts of blood and treasure get expended with no end in sight.
Rumors are that Russia is sending troops to bolster Assad’s regime in Syria – if true, then Russia is picking a side. And as brutal as Russia is under Putin, if they can provide enough force to Assad’s regime to beat the regime’s enemies, then peace will come to Syria – the peace of the grave for many, of course, but still peace. While I can’t imagine Putin taking such an action for humanitarian purposes, such an action is humanitarian in its ultimate outcome, if it works. The fighting will eventually cease. Some sort of government will emerge. People will be able to in some manner rebuild their lives. If you don’t like the idea of Assad’s regime surviving then here’s your choice: pick a different side and give it sufficient force to beat Assad’s regime, backed by Russia and Iran (with the attendant risk of war with Russia and Iran over it). Not too pretty a thing, right? But if you want to have a seat at the table when war is going on, then you have to fight – if you decide not to fight, then you are leaving all decisions up to those who will.
Which course do I favor? Either all the way in, or all the way out. Either we decide to fight until we get to impose an American settlement on the Middle East, or we stay out, completely. Half in means you just spend blood and treasure and still don’t get to have much say in how things come out. I don’t want American troops to die – nor to have them kill people – for anything which is unclear and/or indefinite. Whatever we do, we should do it all the way – even if what we decide to do is surrender American influence in the region.