To do nothing in the face of that seems to me to be morally wrong and practically irresponsible.
As war rages on in Syria, the debate over accepting refugees heats up in the U.S. President Barack Obama is encouraging Americans to welcome those fleeing their war torn country and announced plans for the U.S. to accept up to 10,000 refugees, but many U.S. governors are not on board. After French officials announced one of the Paris attackers had entered the European country disguised as a refugee, many states have declined to roll out the welcome mat, including New Jersey Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie. (Although they don’t really have a lot of say in the matter.)
Here in the tri-state area, both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have touted the state’s open-door policy toward refugees and Connecticut Gov. Dannell Malloy was the first to accept a Syrian family after Indian slammed their doors shut at the last minute.
Still, many conservatives are threatening to jeopardize Obama’s plans to help more Syrians re-settle in the U.S. To get some perspective on the situation, we caught up via satellite with Ambassador Dennis Ross, a distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Middle East envoy for the administrations of President Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He also authored the recently released “Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship From Truman To Obama.” Read below for a Q-and-A, which has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Would allowing the 10,000 Syrian refugees that the president has proposed increase the terrorist attacks and threats that we’ve seen in the U.S. and the Westnern world lately?
“I really don’t believe so, first the number we’re talking about 10,000 out of what we understand and as you were outlining is actually a refugee crisis that involves several million. Really what we’re talking about is a very small number. But there’s a moral imperative here, I mean the fact is…you are looking at people who are fleeing a war. The horrors of this war are almost impossible to imagine. We have a regime that attacks civilian targets almost exclusively. It uses barrel bombs, it attacks hospitals, it attacks any place where civilians tend to congregate. They have the regime on one hand, they have the Islamic State on the other and they are facing an unrelenting onslaught. To do nothing in the face of that seems to me to be morally wrong and practically irresponsible.”
Haven’t some officials, including FBI Director James Comey, raised concerns about our ability to adequately screen refugees for security risks?
“I’m not saying there are no problems, but I’m also suggesting that you can also decide you’re going to look at a class of those who are coming. If we want to, instead of taking all those who are young men, take families. Obviously what we saw in just San Bernardino means you can’t guarantee there’s no possibility that those who come with small families could still be a threat but it seems to me that the likelihood of that could be small and the moral imperative to deal with what is a humanitarian catastrophe also ought to weigh on us.”
And what about ISIS: do you think that the terrorist group is watching how the U.S. addresses the refugee crisis?
“I think that they’re not thinking about the Syrian refugees per se, they’re thinking about how do they create an image that there’s a war on Islam? How do they create a polarization? They talk about a gray zone and when they talk about a gray zone what they mean is those Muslims who live outside who don’t follow them, who live in western societies and who they want to be able to recruit. So they want to create a polarization. They want to create a sense that there is a war on Islam. Their whole ideology is shaped by an image that they want to conjure up that Islam is being humiliated, that Muslims are being treated with indignity. And they want to create a set of circumstances that help to in a sense validate their narrative. So what we don’t want to do is we don’t want to play into their narrative and obviously at the same time we want to ensure that we have security and also deal with what I think is a moral imperative.”
So what steps should we take to address the chaos in Syria? You support a safe-haven in Syria. How do we create that?
“Well I do think one of the ways to reduce the need to have to have the flow of refugees to create a safe haven so Syrian refugees don’t have to leave they have a place where they can go and those who have left have a place they can return to, which is actually in Syria so that ultimately Syrian refugees can be reintegrated back into Syria. That of course requires an end to the horrific conflict there.”
We’re not alone in this, the Europeans have a much larger stake in staunching the flow of refugees than we do. They are the ones who in the first instance are dealing with it on a much more dramatic basis than we are and it’s creating tremendous problems within Europe itself. So one, go to the Europeans and say let’s do a safe haven…it can staunch the flow we’ll do our part in terms of no fly we need you to contribute your air forces. Turkey is the recipient of 2.2 million refugees, obviously it needs to deal with that itself. It has a interest, it has been clamoring for a safe haven. The Saudis, the Emirates, the Qataris, the Kuwaitis have been clamoring for it because they see basically an onslaught against the Sunnis of Syria. In each case we could go to all of them we could say, ‘We do our part provided you do yours.’ Turkey can provide the forces on the ground to ensure that the safe haven is not infiltrated by ISIS. The Saudis and the others can finance the infrastructure for the refugees there, and all of them can understand we don’t do this unless there’s one address for all the assistance so that we can create greater coherence among the Syrian opposition. If we want a political outcome in Syria, we have to have a Syrian opposition that is united enough that can both negotiate and implement something it could agree to.”
What approach should we take to start the end of Syria’s civil war?
“The key is on the one hand create greater coherence among the Syrian opposition because there is none. Number two, so long as the Assad regime is there he we will be a magnet for every jihadi worldwide. He will be a constant recruiting tool. Right now I’m afraid this political process has very little chance of succeeding. The Russians say they’ll support a cease fire but unless they impose it on Assad, and the Iranians and Hezbollah, you won’t get one. Without a cease fire, you don’t have a political process. Without a coherent Syrian opposition, you don’t have any credible likelihood of being able to provide an agreement. So long as Assad is there, there is no way to end this war. Those are the basic steps that need to be taken.”