European Refugee Crisis is Product of Middle East Dysfunction, Much of It Our Fault
You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to have noticed that Europe has a massive refugee crisis on its hands. Pictures of drowned babies have washed up on the shore of media consciousness in the past week. They are indelible images which aren’t easily erased from our mind, nor should they be. We’ve also seen pictures of other refugees locked into sweltering trains at Hungarian railway stations, conjuring horrific images from Europe’s historic past of other refugees on their way to extinction.
But amidst all the chaos and fear of the Europe’s indecisive response to the madness, there is one thing lost in the discourse on this tragedy. Look at the root causes. Where did the crisis originate? And how?
Let’s go back to the Arab Spring. Then you had popular uprisings across the region (Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon) calling for the end of authoritarian rule. These revolts demanded popular rule, democracy, ending police abuse, impunity and corruption. They were fueled from below by the grassroots.
In these countries, populism had been suppressed so long that there were few institutions or parties which could transform an inchoate set of demands into an organized form of governance. As a result, in most cases, after the popular movement made its initial attempt to rule the elites, which had bidden their time and licked their wounds, reorganized and struck back. In cases like Egypt and Bahrain, the military and autocratic rulers returned with a vengeance.
In Libya, the overthrow of the overlord left a power vacuüm which criminal and radical Islamist militias have rushed fitfully to fill. The result has been a failed state, whose huddled masses have turned to Europe, yearning to breathe free. Tunisia, though riven by violence and assassination, is the only country which has remained on its original path toward democracy and popular rule. There, the centripetal force of radical Islam has been held in check by more moderate elements. Lebanon has for decades sat atop a powder keg of roiling ethnic divisions. We’ve seen them verge on explosion especially with the most recent garbage crisis, which has exposed the torpor of divided governance, in which no one can make ultimate decisions about something as small as municipal waste collection.
Syria is perhaps the ultimate tragedy: a non-violent popular movement faced a dynastic autocrat enjoying decades of entrenched power. Pres. Assad, having no model of negotiation, compromise or democratic consultation, met resistance with massive firepower. So the battle was joined. Instead of an Orange Revolution like the Ukraine or a People Power like in the Philippines, you had tanks in the streets. Worshipers gunned down after Friday prayer in their local mosques.
As outside Sunni interests responded to the bloodletting of the Alawite (Shiite) government forces, they ratcheted up the violence. They either created or enabled Islamist groups ranging from al Qaeda (Al Nusra) to ISIS to take hold. The latest escalation is a multilateral air campaign by Turkey, the U.S. and Gulf States to attack ISIS, a monster borne out of the Iraqi quagmire we helped create. Competing foreign powers from Russia, Iran and Lebanon (Hezbollah) rushed to fill the vacuüm on the loyalist side.
All this resulted in a standoff of epic proportions. A country once unified has broken into cantons based on sectarian divisions. Warlords, thugs, and thieves have become lords of all they survey. Those who suffer most are not the emirs, presidents and Ayatollahs who offer weapons, money and fighters, but the Syrian civilians. They have fled wherever they could find a temporary refuge: Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon. From there, they’ve scattered like leaves in the wind, boarding rickety boats to cross the Bosporus on their way to Europe.
It’s terribly ironic that their ultimate destination appears to be Germany. A country which, 75 years ago, slaughtered Poles, Russians, Jews, French and Britons in the scores of millions. Now is called upon to become a safe harbor for the wretched refuse of humanity, to quote Emma Lazarus. Germany is the European nation currently sitting on top of the heap economically. It is the powerhouse. It sees fit to lecture Greece about financial profligacy. The truth is that if powerful states like the U.S., Germany and others had done more to support the Arab Spring; if they had supported efforts to institutionalize and strengthen the power of popular movements, you might not have an entire region riven by mass slaughter. You might not have a half-million refugees converging on northern European borders.
We have seen over the past few months how weak the institutions of the European Union are. We have seen posturing and hectoring from Germany against Greece. We have seen instability and inaction. This crisis threatens to be worse. Can the EU show it is a framework meant to last and not collapse at the first wind of discord? Can member states step up and each take tens of thousands of these refugees? Or will they lapse into xenophobia which, like patriotism, is the last refuge of scoundrels?
Another terrible irony of this crisis is that the same European powers being inundated by hundreds of thousands of refugees are the same states who created the artificial divisions and borders of the current Middle East. As colonial powers, Britain, Germany and France exploited the region. The U.S. certainly played a contributory role as well through its own interventions. They played ethnic groups and religious sects off against each other. They rewarded minority groups with power and suppressed majority groups. They ingrained corruption as part of the function of civil society. These imbalances and injustices have given us the Hell we now inherit.
All this points to several lessons: since the world has figuratively missed the boat in terms of dealing with this crisis in 2011, when it was still confined to the Middle East, it must now face up to the result of its indifference and inaction. Europe and the world simply must face facts. They cannot continue to deal with this situation in a haphazard, dysfunctional way. Countries must step up to the plate. A nation like Canada which is responsible for the drowning deaths of the Kurdi family, must immediately resettle the full 10,000 refugee quota it promised (it has only resettled 2,000 so far).
Despite an idiotic presidential campaign in which Republican candidates compete to be the loudest, shrillest, surliest xenophobes on the subject of immigration. For example, how is an “illegal” like a FedEx package? No, that’s not a bad joke in search of a worse punchline. Pres. Obama must show leadership and go against the tide, regardless of cost. He is in his final term. He has nothing to lose. Show the way through mercy. Take 100,000 Syrian refugees. American Jews, witnesses to similar injustices perpetrated on the European Jewish passengers of the St. Louis before the Holocaust, should mobilize on behalf of such a humanitarian effort. We must not stand idly by.
By the way, no one should expect Israel to take any refugees. First of all, they’re Arab. You wouldn’t expect the Jewish state to accept even more than it already has, would you? Not when it’s done its best over 65 years to get rid of as many as it can. Just to confirm that, Bibi Netanyahu announced that little, ol’ Israel couldn’t possibly be expected to participate. Whatever you do, don’t bring up the suffering of Jewish history. Don’t bring up the Holocaust. Don’t bring up Jewish refugees fleeing Europe to help build the new “Jewish state.” That would be oh so inconvenient. Not to mention that Israel isn’t treating the 60,000 African refugees already in its midst very well. Why would Syrian refugees want to live in a place that would put them in internment camps and treat them like dogs?
There is only one way to solve this crisis at its root. Over the long-term, country by country, we must help build infrastructure and institutions to enable stable governance. We must build on what is there–what exists on the ground. We must encourage populist political development. We must oppose autocracy even if it offers temporary stability. But we must not try, as Bush-Cheney did, to graft artificial American concepts onto an Arab tree.
Most importantly, we must dump the poisonous counter-terror policy which has substituted for a U.S. foreign policy towards the region. We need constructive engagement, not drone missiles. Treat Arabs and Muslims like human beings and not terrorists, or a problem needing to be solved.
In countries like Syria, where the popular movement could not overthrow a dictator, there must be a form of negotiated resolution. Given how much blood has flowed under the bridge, it’s hard to see how this can succeed without political will, or even cracking a few heads of the intransigent. There are now so many outside parties meddling in Syria, so many forces with such contradictory interests, the place will be a mess for years to come. It reminds me of the sixteen long years of the Lebanese civil war. Ironically, one of the forces which finally stabilized Lebanon was the autocrat, Hafez al-Assad, who family now faces a civil war of its own.
Ultimately, all the foreign powers intervening in Syria must leave. This may be where the potential of improved relations between the U.S. and Iran could help ameliorate the situation. If we can negotiate an understanding to remove Hezbollah and Iranian forces in return for a negotiated political outcome, it could show the way for all the Sunni interventionists in Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to butt out.
Russia, which is now sending direct military aid and troops to enter the fray, will be much harder to deal with. Putin has shown himself more than willing to throw his weight around in the Ukraine. International opprobrium doesn’t concern him. In fact, he appears to feed on it. He seems to be doing more of the same in Syria. With hardened Pharaonic hearts like Putin’s, the only language he will understand is a bloody nose. The Russian Bear was humiliated in Afghanistan in the 1970s. Must it face a similar poke in the eye when it extends its military adventurism into the Middle East? If so, how does the world confront Russian intervention in a way that doesn’t fuel the slaughter?
The danger of Russian escalation is that the countervailing Sunni forces will ratchet up their intervention. Then we will have something closer to Rwanda than Srebrenica. Something approaching genocide. Can the world countenance this? Or can the world extricate itself from this madness? Can Syria’s domestic forces, including the government and rebels come up with a modus vivendi that will last? Of course, they have failed over many attempts during the past four years. So there is little hope that anything may change.
But how long will it take the Europeans before something gives? 500,000 dead? 1-million? Instead of the projected 300,000 Middle Eastern refugees boring down on Germany–perhaps 1 or 2-million? Rwanda’s genocide was stopped (albeit by an autocrat now responsible for his own more massive genocide in Congo). Genocide in Kosovo was stopped. Serbia was stopped after Srbrenica. What is the way to end the Syrian madness? Action and courage are not called for, but demanded.
NOTE: Muhammed Sahimi and I have published a new Mint Press article, Torpedoing The Deal: US Media Promotes Israel Lobby’s Campaign Against Iran Deal. I hope you’ll give it a read and promote it via social media and other forms of sharing.
20 thoughts on “European Refugee Crisis is Product of Middle East Dysfunction, Much of It Our Fault – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Richard, the picture with the train seemed wrong somehow. I searched it and it does not show Jews being deported, but Sudeten Germans being deported from Czecoslovakia in 1945.
@ Elisabeth: Thanks. IT was from the National Holocaust Museum website. I believed it pictured Jews. I’ve replaced the image with a different one from Yad Vashem.
Deep Israeli strategy was to subvert the Arab Spring in Syria and convert it into a bloody Jihadi overthrow of Damascus/Assad and turn it into splintered state like the Neocons/Israelis did to Iraq.
As the Arab Spring overthrew Mubarak , with the Israelis and Saudis screaming bl—- mu—-, the US had to rush troops to Jordan to prop up Abdullah, and it was from their that the CIA/with Israeli involvement was involved in the training of the proto-ISIS groups in the special camp they set up there
General Allen was working with the Israelis even then to start laying the framework to build the Anti-ISIS wall in the Jordan Valley.
Israel then aids Al Nusra and other jihadi groups so it’s final Apartheid liferaft is poor Israel, swimming in a sea of ISIS/Islamic Jihad, with a fresh Anti-ISIS wall built including on it’s Eastern border (as it colluded to take down Jordan).
Israel’s involvement along with McCain, Graham and the rest of the Neocons, plus Saudi and Qatari support, was to subvert the Arab Spring into the new rasion d’etre of the Apartheid state
The endgame for Israel is it just gets to PAY, SUPPORT, TRAIN AND RUN a few ragtag Nusra /ISIS groups on it’s Northern Syrian border, which it is already doing, while with Egypt’s Sisi and Jordan’ s Abdullah (cue the new Israeli helicopters and coordination) it gets to run the same little game against easily controlled no-threat ISIS units on it’s Egyptian/Jordanian borders, while using THIS as it’s new excuse for neverending US aid and support of Israeli bellicosity against Iran (now off the table, until Obama is gone) for the next 1000 yrs
This is the future for Israel – painting itself as a necessary indispensible Apartheid in a sea of Jihad – which it itself created along with US Neocons and Saudi Arabia – while the results on it’s strategy wreck havoc on Europe and it’s BDS support
Israel, ISIS, and Saudi Arabia – The new axis of evil in the Middle East
What we need to do next is CONTINUE taking down the Apartheid along with the Neocons/Israeli Lobby in the US as is happening with the Successful Iran Nuclear Deal, and then deal with the other supporters and financiers of all the above, the Saudis
It’s the Saudi Israelia cat, with ISIS teeth – it’s ONE ANIMAL
“Deep Israeli strategy was to subvert the Arab Spring in Syria and convert it into a bloody Jihadi overthrow of Damascus/Assad ”
Before you got to sleep, do you look under your bed for Jews?
Uh… Does this rant come with any credible links? You know, as per the comments rules?
Do you want the links to the Jordanian camps used to train the Jihadis used against the Assad? – I’ll start with that
‘The Pentagon said last October that a small group of US special forces and military planners had been to Jordan during the summer to help the country prepare for the possibility of Syrian use of chemical weapons and train selected rebel fighters.’
‘Report: Syrian rebel forces trained by West are moving towards Damascus’
‘Inside Israel’s Secret War in Syria’
Israel Establishes Syrian Rebel Base in Israel, Treats Radical Islamist Wounded
The UN Sec Council’s Report on Israeli contacts with Nusra
I’m just googling – google ALL my points – it’s easy, it’s ALL OPEN SOURCE
From your first The Guardian link, especially wrought in view of UK’s big man Cameron announcing participating in anti-IS air strikes in Syria with the coalition of US-Turkey-GCC states and the refugee crisis of today. Big man Cameron willing to accept 4,000 refugees from Syria per year [!!] and is boasting about it in British parliament.
British officials have made it clear that they believe new EU rules have now given the UK the green light to start providing military training for rebel fighters with the aim of containing the spread of chaos and extremism in areas outside the Syrian regime’s control.
According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected.
○ UK’s Cameron and France’s Sarkozy received as heroes in Benghazi after Gadaffi’s overthrow | Sept. 15, 2011
Now onward towards Assad’s Syria … shipments of arms and jihadist foreign fighters send from Benghazi to Syria through Turkey and funded by Qatar. Today, the Syrian militants are returning the favor and have established an IS footprint in eastern Libya. Haven’t the west learned it’s lessons from the Afghan intervention [Brzezinski doctrine under Carter] and the blow-back of 9/11.
○ World In Turmoil: Role of Brzezinski and Albright, Our Democrats
here’s two links to the first point – do you want links for every point? – they’re all OPEN SOURCE and Googleable
‘Report: Syrian rebel forces trained by West are moving towards Damascus’
Here’s the famous
‘Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations
Disengagement Observer Force for the period from
20 November 2014 to 3 March 2015’
Training Syrians to fight the Assad regime in Jordan was well known, later under cover of “joint military training” exercises, the US left military hardware behind in Jordan.
○ Jordan: US Forces Plan Shield Against Syria | ABC News – Oct. 11, 2012 | [cached]
Was covered by me in Oct. 2012 and again in June 2014 with expanded news …
○ US With Both Feet in Syrian Quagmire
“If we can negotiate an understanding to remove Hezbollah and Iranian forces in return for a negotiated political outcome,.. ”
Richard. The Iran ‘nuclear deal’ is where the West should have leveraged Iran and Hezbollah to remove themselves from Syria.
Am I wrong?
@Mitcgell: Yes you’re wrong. In WA we have a constitutional rule that initiatives may only deal with one subject. If they stray from this then they’re ruled unconstitutional.
The more subjects you try to pack into an agreement the less likely you’ll end up with one. The nuclear deal is one thing. Syria is another subject entirely.
Now that Europe reaps the consequences of catastrophic situations in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa, the last thing they need is Israel making things worse in Gaza thereby creating another 100, 000 or more refugees needing to flee.
Hopefully the ultimate outcome is positive in that the more affluent nations of the world will think twice before joining the US in ill advised military adventures and look again at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians which clearly smells like slow motion ethnic cleansing
Part of the US contribution may have been backing down from the “red line” that Obama announced concerning Syria’s use of poison gas. Syria used it and all we got was a negotiated settlement, which seems to have been violated since then. No more “red lines” have been announced.
Another cause of the crisis is prolonged drought in Syria, most likely a result of climate change, causing people to leave farmland and move to the cities seeking work, resulting in urban tensions that are exploited by all sides of the civil war.
HIAS (formerly Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) is working to aid refugees in various parts of the world, as well as putting pressure on the US government to admit more refugee here. Unfortunately, despite our Statue of Liberty, the US no longer welcomes refugees.
Jpost reporting Palestinian sources say that 500,000 Palestinian refugees have fled their homes in the Syrian camps, and only 200,000 of that figure still remain in Syria at all, while 100,000 Palestinians are now in Europe, and 1,000 have drowned on the way
Israeli commentators are besides themselves on the site, figuring this is the end of a significant ‘Palestinian Right of Return’ demographic threat, and that the ones in Europe will never be coming back to Palestine
If that is true or partially true, and as a result of Syria now being in chaos that Israel will be able to continue to hold onto the Golan forever (or at least until the Apartheid is brought down), then that’s definitely two birds with one stone for Israel
‘100,000 Palestinians have fled Syria to Europe, official says’ @ JPOST
“Middle East dysfunction, much of it our fault” – absolutely. We keep giving Israel a blank cheque on which it writes ‘unconditional support from the West’.
Is it a coincidence that Syria, meant to be the third member of the AXIS OF EVIL, is being torn apart? First Iraq, then Syria (with Libya during the intermission) and Iran if the Israel lobby has its way. Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams, David Frum, Dick Cheney (described by Chis Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a key figure in Britain’s Conservative Party, as the secretary of the Washington branch of the Likud Party).
North Korea was included in the ‘official’ AXIS OF EVIL to make it look like the US had a world view, rather than a strictly Middle East (read Israel) view.
The truth is that if powerful states like the U.S., Germany and others …
I clearly have a different opinion how the Syrian “protest” evolved into sectarian strife and ultimate war of foreign jihadists against the Syrian Army and, unfortunately, the tribal militants who committed equal atrocities as the foreign terrorist, in support of Assad’s dictatorial rule.
For starters, look-up the biography and experience of US Ambassador Ford and the Neocon playbook for Syria initiated under George Bush in 2006 and completed under the Obama administration with Hillary Clinton presiding over foreign policy at the State Department. HRC pushed the envelop to remove Gadaffi from power in Libya. The R2P doctrine is a blunt version of a military coup d’etat from earlier decades.
Germany played a minor role in NATO in support of the FSA and AQ terror groups fighting in Syria. The major players next to the U.S. are the UK (Cameron), France (Hollande) and Turkey (Erdogan). In Syria the political opposition for the Geneve talks were heavily divided between Salafists (SA) and Muslim Brotherhood (Qatar, Turkey and Egypt under Morsi). HRC failed to bring these two groups togeher and all along blaming Lavrov, Putin and Russia in general.
The Gulf States and in particular Qatar and Saudi Arabia were the greatest powers to deliver arms, munitions and funds to overthrow Gadaffi and afterwards diverted all attention to Syria and the overthrow of Assad. The Lebanon civil war was never really settled as the sectarian divide was a powder keg ready to explode. The Western powers and both Saudi Arabia and later Qatar played a leading role in undermining the governments in Beirut and Damascus.
Israel played its part in covert action and more from the sidelines, but very effectively to exacerbate the divisions in the region.
Good to see someone commenting here is basing their view of the world on facts, Oui.
○ Ex-DIA Head: ‘White House Knowingly Backed Al Qaeda In Syria’
○ Don’t Call Them Al Qaeda, Terror Coming from ISIS (aka AQI, IS)
An ironic consequence of the refugee crisis is that it does something for Germany’s tarnished reputation. In Haaretz Odeh Bisharat even calls the country “a light unto the nations” ( the function Israel once aspired to have). Bisharat comments that if Germany had an interior minister like Silvan Shalom and a culture minister like Miri Regev the refugees could forget to find asylum there.
In the first half of the Nineteenth Century Germany was known as the country of “Dichter und Denker” (poets and thinkers) – a characterisation that was not entirely flattering because for some it also pointed to the political absenteism of the educated middle class. In the Twentieth Century the Viennese-Jewish satirist Karl Kraus indicated the change in Germany’s reputation by varying that “Dichter und Denker” into “Richter und Henker” (judges and executioners) – and that was before the holocaust..
Does a certain collective “Gewissensbisse” (pang of conscience) about that terrible crime play a role in the present comparative generosity towards refugees? In Israel, however, the memory of having been the victims of that crime seems to have led to an absence of “Gewissensbisse” among the majority about making other people victims.
I was thinking this and you put it well.