Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 14, 2015

Self-interest and self-subversion

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 14, 2015

This morning the hotel left a USA Today outside my door. On the opinion page the editors call for  the US to accept more Syrian refugees.  I perceive the editors’ position is prompted primarily by ethical concerns, but they feel compelled to make a strategic argument.  They fail, in my judgment, to make a strong argument.

The newspaper has, as usual, recruited an opposing view.  Today Congressman Peter King has authored what is pasted below in-full.  The Congressman is being reasonable.  If security is your top priority, his is a persuasive argument.

From an ethical perspective it is a deeply mistaken argument.  It tells us we are allowed to dismiss the present pain of another because of a possible risk to ourselves.

Most ethical systems: Stoic, Judeo-Christian, Confucian, Islamic, even Epicurean are skeptical of narrowly self-interested choices.  We are in relationship with each other and when — by commission or omission — we do harm to another, we do harm to ourselves (this is, I suppose, the nub of the strategic argument the newspaper editors are circling about).  Plato has his Socrates say, “Of these two then, inflicting and suffering wrong,  we say it is a greater evil to inflict it, a lesser to suffer it.” (Gorgias)

In most situations where others are in desperate need, we cannot be of assistance without assuming some risk to ourselves.  This is true for individuals — lifeguards, firefighters, or bystanders — and for societies.

Too often in an attempt to avoid suffering, we inflict it on others.  When we do, it ought not be a surprise that others view us as hypocritical or much worse.

–+–

The following was published on the Opinion Page of USA Today on September 14, 2015.  The author is Peter King.

We have seen the tragic footage of Syrian refugees fleeing the Assad regime and ISIL.

While the United States and international community must respond, I have very serious concerns about how refugees coming here will be vetted, since we know that ISIL will attempt to infiltrate its members into the United States with these refugees. It is vital that we measure our humanitarian beliefs against the security risks of bringing in thousands of unknown individuals. Since the beginning of the year, the FBI has arrested more than 50 individuals connected with ISIL and plotting attacks in the homeland; we cannot afford to compound this threat.

With the lack of stable foreign governments and on-the-ground intelligence in Syria, our ability to vet refugees is significantly degraded. The White House announcement that 10,000 additional Syrian refugees will be admitted next year is contrary to the advice of law enforcement and intelligence professionals.

The United States has already experienced the danger of flawed refugee vetting, as well as the potential for refugees to be radicalized once they are here. In 2011, two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Kentucky for conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad in support of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIL. Other cases include “blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman; 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef; Mir Aimal Kasi, the 1993 CIA headquarters shooter; the Tsarnaev brothers; and the 20-plus cases of Somali Americans who left the U.S. to join al-Shabaab; and the dozen or so who have joined ISIL.

None of us wants any more of these threats or attacks.

To start, we need to do more to work with Jordan, where we have a good intelligence-sharing relationship. Additionally, we need to review U.S. laws regarding what data are collected from refugees and how U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies can use and retain that data. Above all, the United States needs to have a clear policy on the need to remove the Assad regime and defeat ISIL.

America has a long and proud history of providing safe harbor for refugees. We must continue to do so, but in a way that keeps America safe.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairs the counterterrorism and intellegence subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee.

–+–

Recently my non-blogging life has become more complicated.  I need to give it fuller attention.  I will as a result be taking another indefinite hiatus beginning when I push the publish button for this post.

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7 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 14, 2015 @ 11:29 am

Thanks for this post! And sorry for your hopefully “temporary” departure. I guess when the DONALD calls you must respond. He needs to know how the Greeks “ostracized” IMO.

Comment by Donald Quixote

September 14, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

In this never-ending political season, this is a very serious humanitarian, political, policy and homeland security question that will continue to spark important and heated discussions and debates. It may be difficult to gain support to assist 10,000 refugees with over 10,000,000 economic migrants reportedly already illegally present in the country. There are likely serious and significant ramifications and benefits for the nation from both groups. What are the acceptable costs for these benefits or the negative consequences?

Good luck Mr. Palin and Godspeed.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

September 15, 2015 @ 6:16 pm

I’ve been pretty disappointed as well as confused by the striking lack of much of any meaningful sense of culpability or responsibility either one by the U.S. in any of the posts thus far on this blog about the unprecedented refugee crisis that all of the violence in the Middle East and North Africa has generated. I join many millions around the globe in putting it squarely at the West’s feet in general, and the U.S.’ in particular. I haven’t had time to write about it before now, but here are a couple of pieces that I’ve run across that I wanted to share first:

From
Samah Sabawi

Red shirt. Blue jeans. Little sneakers. Not on a boat of asylum seekers. Not holding the hand of a hijab wearing mother. Not in the embrace of a brown skinned father. Not in the company of anyone that the world can demonize. Face down in the sand. With his eyes eternally shut he pries open our eyes. He looks familiar, like a son, a grandson, a nephew, a toddler in the playground. He looks like that kid at the grocery store who always manages to stare us down. Red shirt. Blue jeans. Little sneakers. No papers, no visa, no I.D. A victim of our policy.

The wars we started over there have come to haunt us here. The voices we muted for so long have suddenly become loud and clear. A picture is worth a thousand words, but how many words do we need to erase our fear others? How many words does it take to affirm humanity? The resort was the last place they expected to be confronted with this. The tourists were shocked. All they wanted was to watch the sun rise and make love on the beach. ‘He was not supposed to be here washed up on our shore’. Red shirt. Blue jeans. Little sneakers. Thoughtless refugee. Did he really have to drown in our sea?

Can we just take one minute to learn from history? Palestinians were the first wave of dispossessed in the Arab world, now they are a drop in the ocean of exile and grief. The lesson learned is this: When injustice is left to fester, it expands beyond the horizon. Everyone becomes a refugee. Red shirt. Blue jeans. Little sneakers. They were riding the waves along the shores of Haifa, desperate they climbed into wooden boats to escape from the Irgun. Face down in the sand. Nakba is infectious. Untreated and unopposed, Nakba grows past the checkpoints and the siege of Gaza, it spreads to Syria… Iraq …Afghanistan…and Yemen… Its poison taints the waters of the Mediterranean.

Red shirt. Blue jeans. Little sneakers. He is beautiful and intact. Face down in the sand. The sharks did not devour him. They left him for the bigger beasts. The arms dealers, the warlords and oil sheiks. The neocons in the west and the tyrants of the east. He is an offering for their feast.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

September 15, 2015 @ 6:24 pm

For those of you who don’t know, the word “Nakba” used above refers to the 1948 expulsion and forced exodus of almost a million Palestinians from their homes in what is now Israel. It’s literal translation in Arabic means “the disaster” or “catastrophe.”

Comment by Vicki Campbell

September 15, 2015 @ 6:31 pm

And from the Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 15, 2015 @ 6:50 pm

Syria has been suffering with extreme drought the last 5 years with Turkey aggravating the situation by cutting off water flows in rivers flowing from Turkey to Syria.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

September 17, 2015 @ 6:52 pm

Yes, Bill, that’s very true, although it in no way explains or is the primary cause of the situation on the ground today. Below is an article by a British PhD research intern who worked in the British embassy in Damascus during the height of the drought, and who has spoken out about the extent to which the Assad government has misdepicted by the U.S.
____________________________________________________

SEPTEMBER 11, 2015
Want to Know What’s Really Going on in Syria? Warning: It’ll Take You More Than 5 Minutes
by LOUIS ALLDAY

“Wars are complex. They come out of nowhere and all of a sudden, people you’ve never heard of are killing each other on the evening news.”

So begins this rather patronising piece on Upworthy that attempts to explain in a digestible format what is happening in Syria. Entitled ‘Trying to follow what is going on in Syria and why? This comic will get you there in 5 minutes’, the article presents a neat, but ultimately misleading and reductive narrative, which argues that drought caused by climate change is primarily responsible for the war in Syria. Somewhat regrettably, it has been shared widely over the internet since it was published last week. Presumably it is being read (and shared) by people who are confused by events in Syria and want to find an easy framework with which to understand them.

Even for a piece that is explicitly intended for the layman, it is highly simplistic, misleadingly so. There is no doubt that the major drought witnessed in Syria between 2006 and 2011 had a catastrophic environmental and societal impact on the country, but it is not the over-arching cause of the war. The article is also littered with inaccuracies and has many glaring omissions, including the central role of foreign powers in the war, notably the US. For instance, there is no mention of the US’ long-standing effort (in co-ordination with Saudi Arabia) to encourage Islamic fundamentalism and sectarianism in Syria in order to weaken the Syrian Government at any cost (as revealed by WikiLeaks) and no mention of the CIA’s enormous Syria operation that has cost at least $1bn and trained and armed nearly 10,000 fighters sent to fight in Syria since the war began. But it is something else in the piece that – due to personal experience – I found especially problematic. The piece claims that in response to the drought crisis, “Bashar Al Assad’s Government offered little help” (the word Government is omitted in the article itself, this appears to be an editorial oversight).

In 2009, when the enormous scale of the drought in Syria was becoming clear, I was a research intern at the British Embassy in Damascus. In this role, one of my responsibilities was to attend briefings and events arranged by international organisations and other embassies and report my findings back to the UK Embassy. Therefore, when I read the phrase “offered little help”, I was immediately reminded of a UN briefing that I attended in Damascus in July 2009. As soon as I consulted my original notes from the briefing, the flagrant inaccuracy – if not outright dishonesty – of this wording struck me. At this briefing, the UN Drought Joint Needs Assessment Mission (or the JNA), chaired by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (now the Head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response), reported to international (primarily western) donors the findings of a field mission that the JNA had conducted in Eastern Syria in June 2009. In his presentation, Ahmed praised the response of the Syrian Government more than once but argued that given the enormous scale of the problem, further action from it was needed. He also summarised the measures that the government had already taken, these included the following:

*A food assistance programme that was supplementing the World Food Program’s efforts. 27,000-30,000 families were guaranteed support until December 2009.

* Livestock feed had been subsidised.

* Outstanding loans of farmers had been re-scheduled and micro-credit loans offered to them.

* New teachers had been hired for affected regions.

* Establishment of a government fund specifically for agricultural subsidies and support.

Representatives of the Syrian Government appeared alongside the UN at the meeting; The Director of Planning from the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture and the Deputy Head of the State Planning Commission. Both these Syrian officials stressed the severity and unprecedented scale of the drought and stated explicitly that the government was struggling to cope with its impact. They openly asked for financial assistance (both short- and long-term) from international donors and stated that the Syrian Government’s efforts alone would not be sufficient to cope. During the briefing a number of funding options were offered to international donors by the UN. These included food distribution for 300,000 people (priced at $29.9m) and water projects including reverse osmosis units and rehabilitation of wells (priced at $2.1m). An overall aid target of $50m was set; a figure that I remember many in the room thought was wholly unrealistic since only $4m had been donated by the same countries/groups the previous year.

In light of this context, the article’s premise that the government “offered little help” is, at best, an unfair and inaccurate simplification of how the Syrian Government actually responded to the drought. At worst, it is an intentional and dishonest attempt to obscure the government’s evident attempts to solve the crisis and mitigate its impact. The reality is that the Syrian Government was simply overwhelmed by the scale of the drought (and its subsequent effects); it did not possess the ability – financial, logistical and otherwise – to respond adequately to it and did not receive sufficient funding from international donors to help account for this deficiency. After that meeting, I remember my impression of the Syrian officials was of two overwhelmed and worried government employees who were acutely aware of the scale of the emergency and the dire need for international assistance but, given the numerous enemies Syria faced, were wary of appearing overly weak in front of an international audience.

Although to some this might seem a relatively unimportant clarification, it is reflective of a much broader trend in reporting on Syria; the constant reduction of the entire Syrian Government/State to simply ‘Assad’ (also the ‘Assad regime’ or ‘Assad’s Government’) and a small group of Alawite ‘thugs’, as if Syria lacked national institutions and infrastructures that although often dysfunctional, have existed and developed over decades, and are staffed by many thousands of government employees. Leader-focused framing such as this plays a central role in legitimising the West’s aggression against entire nation-states (think Gaddafi, Saddam, Milosevic et al) and inevitably, to observe such a fact often means being labelled “pro-Assad” or “pro-Qaddafi” etc. Such is the simplistic portrayal of the ‘Assad regime’ in much of the Western media, that I am sure many in the West would be surprised to learn that Syria even had a Deputy Head of the State Planning Commission or a Director of Planning at the Ministry of Agriculture.

The media’s constant use of ‘Assad’ and ‘regime’ obscures the reality that the government is not a homogenous entity, and that many ‘regime’ officials are simply bureaucrats, technical experts and civil servants, not murderous, sectarian thugs as is so often the impression. After all, Khaled al-Asaad, the former Head of Antiquities at Palmyra who was murdered by ISIS in August was a ‘regime’ official and had been so for forty years. While his murder was unanimously condemned and al-Asaad was – rightfully so – widely mourned by the Western press, the awkward fact that he was a government employee was conveniently downplayed. In the same way, the image of Syrian Government officials in the midst of a drought crisis, outlining the bureaucratic steps taken by the government to date, expressing real concern for the future and pleading for help from international donors does not fit the narrative of ‘Assad and his regime thugs’ and so was ignored.

Louis Allday is a PhD candidate at SOAS of the University of London

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