Treating the cause of the Syrian refugee crisis

Treating the cause of the Syrian refugee crisis

There is no question that Europe should take in refugees fleeing violence in Syria, as should the United States. Israel also could take in some refugees, as opposition leader Isaac Herzog has called on the government to do — even though we recognize the issues of concern that must be addressed before such a move is made. But even before the world saw the heartbreaking photo of the body of a Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach, the largest refugee crisis since World War II demanded more of the world community than the stop-gap refugee placement measures being discussed now in world capitals.

In the four years since Syria’s civil war began, 250,000 of its citizens have been killed and 4 million have fled. Most are in camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan waiting for the world to act. Now Syrians are fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea to a hoped-for safe haven in Europe. But merely welcoming those who survive the harrowing journey is not enough, since it does nothing to address the cause of this human catastrophe.

The root of the crisis can be traced to the 2011 decision of Syria’s Assad regime to meet a peaceful protest movement with guns and tanks, and later, as the protests morphed into a radical Sunni-led insurgency, with barrel bombs and chemical weapons. That insurgency, which now wears the face of the so-called Islamic State, terrorizes the people, beheads its prisoners and destroys the country’s antiquities.

Who wouldn’t want to escape from such a terrifying environment?

There is plenty of blame to be shared for the outrages in Syria. The United States deserves its share, for setting red lines and not enforcing them, and for creating the impression with its tepid response to this crisis that the Middle East region is no longer of strategic concern to the White House. Russia is to be blamed for lending the Assad regime diplomatic support, just as Iran continues to support the regime militarily. To their own discredit, oil-rich Gulf states who backed rival Sunni militias have joined Egypt in refusing to take in refugees. And Europe has largely stood by as the death and destruction in Syria have continued for four years; only now is it just beginning to react.

A renewed international effort needs to be developed. But the plan needs to focus on more than just desperate refugees. Instead, the international effort must aim for a far more complex and difficult political solution in Syria. Let history be our guide — if the world community doesn’t solve the problems at the root of this metastasizing crisis, all we are going to get is more death and more refugees.