The best ways to deal with the refugee crisis

David Miliband writes: In July 1941, Albert Einstein, ten months a US citizen, wrote Eleanor Roosevelt from his Saranac Lake retreat to register “deep concern” at the policies of her husband’s administration. A “wall of bureaucratic measures” erected by the State Department, “alleged to be necessary to protect America against subversive, dangerous elements,” had, he wrote, made “it all but impossible to give refuge in America to many worthy persons who are the victims of Fascist cruelty in Europe.”

Einstein asked the First Lady to raise this “truly grave injustice” with the president, but his appeal had limited effect. Paranoia that refugees would, if granted entry to America, turn on their host and spy for its enemies persisted. The annihilation the following year of some 2.7 million Jews—nearly half of all Jewish victims of the Holocaust—could not dispel this prejudice. Nor did the killing in 1942 result—amid economic depression, the battle against the Axis, and strains of popular and political xenophobia—in a US response to the refugees’ plight. The American “wall” against refugees would remain largely standing until the beginning of 1944, the year before the Allied victory.

The source of Einstein’s vexation that summer has returned to public life. We are again seeing a double assault against some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Their character and intentions are often impugned and they are denied dignified refuge. A day after American-born Omar Mateen’s June 12 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, warned of “a better, bigger version of the legendary Trojan horse,” declaring: “We have to stop the tremendous flow of Syrian refugees into the United States—we don’t know who they are, they have no documentation, and we don’t know what they’re planning.”

Trump’s claims are myth, not fact. Of the nearly 5.5 million people who have fled the conflict in Syria during the past five and a half years, around 10,000—less than 0.2 percent of the total Syrian refugee population—have been resettled in the US from Syria’s neighbors this year. We know who they are, because refugees are the single most vetted population entering the US. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) registers, documents, and verifies the claim of all those whom it refers to the government for resettlement. The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and multiple intelligence agencies then conduct interviews, gather detailed biographical and biometric data, and carry out a range of background checks on every candidate before they receive clearance to travel to the US. The entire process takes between eighteen and twenty-four months. There is no harder route into the US. [Continue reading…]


The failed cease-fire has just made things worse in Syria

Business Insider reports: The Obama administration is often criticized for its lack of action on Syria, but in some cases, doing nothing might be better than a cease-fire gone wrong.

Hassan Hassan, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and an expert on Syria, warned that public opinion on the US is already so low inside Syria that a failed deal is dangerous to US credibility in the future.

“It’s something the American administration, the Obama administration, is not realizing,” Hassan told Business Insider. “That every time they try something that is not a perfect solution or … not a good solution, half-solution, obviously flawed, the situation after that option fails is much worse than before it failed. So sometimes not trying is better than trying something bad, something flawed.” [Continue reading…]


Turkey wants to join U.S.-led operation against ISIS in Raqqa

Reuters reports: Turkey wants to join the United States in a military operation to push Islamic State from its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, as long as it excludes Kurdish rebel forces, President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Sunday.

NATO member Turkey, part of the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State, is backing Arab and Turkmen Syrian rebels who seized the Syrian town of Jarablus from the jihadists a month ago in an operation it has dubbed “Euphrates Shield.”

But Ankara is wary of the U.S.-allied People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Syrian Kurdish groups it sees as extensions of Kurdish militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency on its own soil. [Continue reading…]


UK accused of blocking UN inquiry into claim of war crimes in Yemen

The Observer reports: Britain has blocked European Union efforts to establish an independent international inquiry into the war in Yemen, prompting dismay among human rights groups.

The Netherlands had hoped to garner broad support for its proposal that the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva set up an inquiry to examine civilian deaths in Yemen, where the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is accused of committing war crimes.

Instead, with the UK refusing to give its backing, the Netherlands’ proposal for an international inquiry – submitted on Friday by Slovakia on behalf of the EU – was replaced with a much weaker one that the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) dispatch a mission “with assistance from relevant experts, to monitor and report on the situation … in Yemen”. This falls far short of what human rights groups and the OHCHR had wanted. [Continue reading…]


Rising toll on civilians in Yemen raises alarm

The New York Times reports: United Nations human rights officials expressed alarm on Friday at a sharp rise in civilian casualties in Yemen since peace talks collapsed last month, the great majority of them inflicted in airstrikes by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

At least 329 civilians have been killed, and at least 426 have been injured since the beginning of August. Fighting resumed after Aug. 6, when talks collapsed between the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and forces aligned with Houthi rebels supported by Iran who control the capital and large portions of the country.

The toll was reported as Saudi Arabia and Arab allies waged a diplomatic campaign at the United Nations Human Rights Council to stave off an international investigation into the conduct of hostilities and possible war crimes.

Heavy Saudi pressure on Western governments and businesses succeeded in stalling a similar initiative in the Council last year; diplomats say the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, has again lobbied against an independent international inquiry. They add that growing awareness of the bloodshed has made it harder for the United States and Britain, Saudi Arabia’s major suppliers of arms and munitions, to look away. [Continue reading…]


Obama demands that security agencies consider climate change

ClimateWire reports: President Obama moved toward solidifying his climate change legacy this week by requiring federal defense and intelligence agencies to consider the effects of a warming planet on national security in the policies, plans and doctrines they develop.

The executive order, issued yesterday, comes in the form of a presidential memorandum requiring 20 federal agencies to collaborate to make sure decisionmakers have the best available information on climate change impacts and their potential threats to national security (E&ENews PM, Sept. 21). The agencies are as varied as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which gather scientific observations on climate, and the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense, which analyze intelligence and develop national security policy.

It’s no longer enough to work on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, said John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology as well as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The facts dictate it, Holdren said. The warmest year on Earth in the modern record, 2015, occurred during Obama’s presidency, and the past 10 years have been the warmest on record.

Those temperature changes aren’t just about readings on a thermometer, he said. There are national security threats in the increasing amount and intensity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, torrential downpours and floods. There are threats, as well, from the spread in geographic range of tropical pathogens, like the Zika virus, and the coastal erosion, flooding and saltwater intrusion brought about by sea-level rise. Even ocean acidification and warming have an effect on the food source, and therefore security, of billions of people worldwide. [Continue reading…]


From burkinis to the Quran: Why Islam isn’t like other faiths

Shadi Hamid writes: parents, brother and I were on vacation in Florida, and we were talking about Donald Trump. The idea of leaving America if a scary Republican wins has always been a joke among high-minded liberals who can just fly off and find a job in Toronto or Geneva. But for my family, the joke had taken on a more sinister tone.

It was the Muslim version of “the talk,” and it went something like this: If, God forbid, it gets worse and a President Trump encourages a climate of hatred and persecution against American Muslims, then what are our options? Trump, after all, has expressed support for registering Muslims in a database and refused to disavow Franklin D. Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.

My dad was born and raised in authoritarian Egypt, later immigrating to Canada and then the United States.

To my surprise, he is still technically a Canadian citizen. We had a backup plan! As we played out the various frightening scenarios, my parents, after flirting with the idea of self-imposed exile, reached the same conclusion: This is their country too, and they would fight for it. They wouldn’t give up. [Continue reading…]


A ferocious assault on Aleppo suggests the U.S. may be wrong on Syria

The Washington Post reports: Syrian and Russian warplanes launched a ferocious assault against rebel-held Aleppo on Friday, burying any hopes that a U.S.-backed cease-fire could be salvaged and calling into question whether the deal would ever have worked.

Waves upon waves of planes relentlessly struck neighborhoods in the rebel-held east of the city on the first day of a new offensive announced by the government. Residents described the most intense airstrikes they had yet witnessed in a five-year-old war that has already claimed in excess of 300,000 lives.

By nightfall, more than 100 bombs had landed, and more than 80 people were dead, said Ammar al-Selmo, head of the Aleppo branch of the White Helmets civil defense group.

Rescuers don’t have the capacity to reach all the places that were hit because there are too many, he said. Three White Helmets bases were among the locations targeted, and two were destroyed, along with their equipment and fuel supplies, further diminishing the group’s ability to respond.

“It is a horrific situation now in Aleppo,” Selmo said. “There are dead people in the streets, and fires are burning without control.

“People don’t know what to do or where to go. There is no escape. It is like the end of the world.”

If there had been any doubt before that the cease-fire deal co-sponsored with Russia is dead, at least for the foreseeable future, the violence Friday put it to rest. A meeting in New York between Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ended swiftly, without statements or discernible progress toward Kerry’s stated goal of reviving last week’s cease-fire.

Instead, the launch of the offensive called into question the entire premise of the agreement painstakingly negotiated by Kerry and Lavrov over the past eight months: that Russia shares the Obama administration’s view that there is no military solution to the conflict. [Continue reading…]


Why we are protesting in Charlotte

Rev Dr William J Barber, II writes: Since a police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday afternoon, the ensuing protests have dominated national news. Provocateurs who attacked police officers and looted stores made headlines. Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard joined police officers in riot gear, making the Queen City look like a war zone.

Speaking on the campaign trail in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Donald J. Trump offered a grave assessment: “Our country looks bad to the world, especially when we are supposed to be the world’s leader. How can we lead when we can’t even control our own cities?” Mr. Trump seems to want Americans to believe, as Representative Robert Pittenger, a Republican whose district includes areas in Charlotte, told the BBC, that black protesters in the city “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.

But Charlotte’s protests are not black people versus white people. They are not black people versus the police. The protesters are black, white and brown people, crying out against police brutality and systemic violence. If we can see them through the tear gas, they show us a way forward to peace with justice. [Continue reading…]


America’s duty to take in refugees

Scott Arbeiter writes: This year the United States will take in 85,000 of the world’s most vulnerable so they can begin new lives in America, the highest number since 2001. But at a time when 65 million people have been displaced by violence, and 20 million of them are classified as refugees — more than half of them children — it is not enough.

Recently, the Obama administration took a small step forward, raising the number of refugees the country will let in to 110,000 for the next fiscal year. The next step is for Congress to allocate resources for resettlement — something it has always done, in a bipartisan fashion, since the refugee crisis after World War II.

Unfortunately, this time, a vocal minority in Congress, the states and the public are arguing that we should respond to this humanitarian crisis by pulling up the welcome mat, even for families fleeing the civil war in Syria and the brutality of the Islamic State. Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, called the administration’s increase “reckless and extreme.”

Fear of refugees is not new. In 1939, the United States turned away more than 900 Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany because of worries that some might be Nazi conspirators or Communists. More than a quarter of those refugees died in the Holocaust. [Continue reading…]


Ancient Syrian sites: A different story of destruction

Hugh Eakin writes: Among the major turning points of the Syrian conflict, few have been laden with as much symbolism — or geopolitical posturing — as the recapture of the ancient city of Palmyra on March 27, 2016. After a weeks-long campaign by Russian bombers and Syrian regime soldiers, the withdrawal of ISIS forces from this extraordinary desert oasis was celebrated as bringing an end to an infamous reign of barbarism.

Connecting Rome and the civilizations of the Mediterranean with Mesopotamia and the empires of the East, Palmyra had been one of the great trading centers of antiquity; for centuries, its incomparable ruins had stood as monuments to Arab glory and Levantine cosmopolitanism. Over the previous ten months, however, the jihadists had reduced to rubble its most important shrine, a soaring, exquisitely decorated first-century-CE temple dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Bel, who was central to Palmyra’s religious cult.

ISIS also blew up a second temple, dedicated to the other supreme Palmyrene deity, Baalshamin; it toppled the triumphal arch on the colonnaded main street, which may have commemorated a Roman victory over the Parthians in the late second century CE; demolished several of the city’s distinctive tower tombs; and sacked the archaeological museum at the site. Most chillingly, it executed the eighty-one-year-old Syrian archaeologist, Khaled al-Asaad, who had for decades been in charge of the site. [Continue reading…]


U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin

Michael Isikoff reports: U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials — including talks about the possible lifting of economic sanctions if the Republican nominee becomes president, according to multiple sources who have been briefed on the issue.

The activities of Trump adviser Carter Page, who has extensive business interests in Russia, have been discussed with senior members of Congress during recent briefings about suspected efforts by Moscow to influence the presidential election, the sources said. After one of those briefings, Senate minority leader Harry Reid wrote FBI Director James Comey, citing reports of meetings between a Trump adviser (a reference to Page) and “high ranking sanctioned individuals” in Moscow over the summer as evidence of “significant and disturbing ties” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin that needed to be investigated by the bureau.

Some of those briefed were “taken aback” when they learned about Page’s contacts in Moscow, viewing them as a possible back channel to the Russians that could undercut U.S. foreign policy, said a congressional source familiar with the briefings but who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. The source added that U.S. officials in the briefings indicated that intelligence reports about the adviser’s talks with senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin were being “actively monitored and investigated.” [Continue reading…]