As rich nations turn their backs on those in need


In an editorial, the New York Times says: The world is witnessing the largest exodus of refugees in generations, spawned by armed conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. But “witnessing” is perhaps the wrong word. Many world leaders, including those who run most of the richest countries, are choosing to look the other way. They are more interested in barricading their nations from the fallout of conflict than in investing in peacekeeping and stability.

This willful neglect was on display last week at the inaugural World Humanitarian Summit, convened to face the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people. Most heads of state from the richest nations — including the United States — didn’t bother to show up, drawing a rebuke from the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.

“It’s disappointing that some world leaders could not be here, especially from the G-7 countries,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday. “We have reached a level of human suffering without parallel since the founding of the United Nations” 70 years ago. [Continue reading…]

Contrast Ki-moon’s words with the happy talk from Barack Obama two weeks ago when he gave the commencement address at Rutgers:

by almost every measure, America is better, and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or even eight years ago.

This assessment has I believe less to do with the dry statistical arguments made by the likes of Steven Pinker, than it has with the group-think inside the Obama administration.

The easiest way to counter criticism on Syria, with the refugee crisis, and elsewhere, is by insisting we did all that we could.

This self-administered anesthetic is designed to suppress remorse, guilt and a keen sense on personal responsibility.

Obama’s faith in inexorable progress derives from his refusal to “look backwards” — a conviction not unlike that of a hit-and-run driver who keeps his eyes firmly on the road ahead.

Likewise, the notion that the United States can extricate itself from its Middle East entanglements by simply walking away, is really no different from the attitude of a deadbeat father who thinks he can leave his past behind.

Our need to understand the past derives from our need to understand the present — it has nothing to do with (as Obama claims) a fear of the future.

The simplistic approach favored inside the White House reduces everything to a choice over which Obama had no control: the decision to invade Iraq.

Those who make that the beginning of history, have very often thereafter indulged in the conceit that by having personally opposed that misadventure, they can thereby shed any sense of collective responsibility for what followed — as though the neocons’ war never actually became America’s war.

What is ostensibly geographically circumscribed by a neat divide between domestic and foreign is really a separation between those things we claim as our own and those we don’t.

The convenient reflex to which most people are susceptible is simply to disown whatever becomes problematic.

We turn our backs on refugees because we prefer to believe that they are not our problem.

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