Syrian Refugees: Arm Them, Train Them, And Send Them Back

syrian refugees in macedoniaAmerica and its allies have two immediate problems right now with the situation in Syria. One is that there’s a civil war going on in which a mass-murdering, terrorist-sponsoring, chemical-weapons-using, neighbor-dominating, Israel-bombarding, Lebanese-prime-minister-assassinating, Iran-allied and Putin-backed anti-American dictator is the lesser evil – and we have failed to create or cultivate a military force capable of supporting any winner in Syria who won’t commit routine atrocities against its people and aggression against its neighbors. The other is that the Syrian civil war has so thoroughly wrecked the country that it has produced a predictable massive humanitarian crisis in the form of hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into Europe. Fortunately, there’s one solution that would allow us to begin solving both problems at once: training and arming the male refugees of military age into a military force to take back their country.

Americans are a generous and compassionate people, and so naturally many of us feel that we should do something for the refugees created by the ghastly war between ISIS and the Assad regime. The Obama Administration wants the U.S. to take in some 10,000 refugees. My initial gut reaction, like a lot of Americans’, was that this would be a good thing – a humanitarian gesture but also one consistent with our longstanding posture of open arms to people fleeing tyranny. Some Republicans, like [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ], have been open to this as well.

At the same time, it’s impossible to miss the fact that this is no ordinary flood of civilian families. The refugee population is dominated by men – UN sources estimate that 72 % of them are adult males. The reason for that becomes clear when you consider who Assad is letting leave, and why:

As hundreds of thousands of refugees flee Syria for Europe, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been coming down hard on those who have stayed behind, particularly people viewed as potential threats…The West has focused largely on those fleeing Islamic State and its atrocities, but Mr. Assad’s regime hasn’t relented with the intimidation and force it has used since the start of the conflict more than four years ago: detention, torture and mandatory drafting into the army for military-age men, along with starvation and an aerial bombing campaign of opposition-held areas. His government has also offered subtle incentives to leave, such as an easier time obtaining a Syrian passport and less hassle booking flights to foreign countries.

The regime’s tactics are pushing out its opponents and those perceived hostile to Mr. Assad, while friendlier groups are rebuilding from the wreckage of war. The cumulative results are broader demographic change designed to tighten Mr. Assad’s hold over the few places he still controls.

In other words, this is no accident: Assad is deliberately using a carrot-and-stick choice of detention, torture and impressment or departure, in order to rid his country precisely of men deemed likely to present a military alternative to his despotic rule. Taking in these men would play directly into his hands. That’s even before we deal with the fact that the conditions in Syria make it more or less impossible to carefully vet these newcomers to assure ourselves that we’re not also taking in a significant number of Islamist sleepers aiming to commit terrorism on U.S. soil, or ripe to be radicalized (the Tsarnaevs were refugees seeking asylum once, too).

Presumably, these men are patriots, loyal to their Syrian homeland. Optimistically – one would hope, if we’re discussing bringing them to the U.S. to live, and in light of the fact that they left the country rather than join ISIS – they are mostly not Islamist fanatics, and resent and reject what ISIS is doing to Syria in the name of Islam. So, why haven’t they taken up arms to fight for their god and country (or, having done so in some cases, why did they give up)? The answer, obviously, is that there is really no organized opposition to Assad right now besides ISIS. This is the result of Obama’s disinterest in getting involved in Syria at the outset when such forces existed. Defense Secretary Carter testified back in July that the U.S. had so far trained only 60 Syrians with its $500 million program to build an opposition force – barely enough troops to defeat a filibuster, let alone an army. The consequence is that we are down to bad options: two years after threatening an “incredibly small” military strike against Assad, and two months after proposing to expand our ground troops in Iraq to fight ISIS, the Obama Administration is seriously still undecided about which side it should be on in this war:

The Barack Obama administration and the U.S. intelligence community have concluded that Russia is set to start flying combat missions from a new air base inside Syria, but there’s disagreement inside the U.S. government on what to do about it.

Thursday at the White House, top officials were scheduled to meet at the National Security Council Deputies Committee level to discuss how to respond to the growing buildup of Russian military equipment and personnel in Latakia, a city on the Syrian coast controlled by the Bashar al-Assad regime. Obama has called on his national security officials to come up with a plan as early as next week, as intelligence reports pour in about the Russian plans to set up an air base there. The options are to try to confront Russia inside Syria or, as some in the White House are advocating, cooperate with Russia there on the fight against the Islamic State.

Now, we face consequences on our doorstep in the form of the refugees, the very sort of thing that early involvement far from home is supposed to avoid. But with hundreds of thousands of Syrian men floating around Europe looking for a home, Drew at Ace of Spades suggests what we should do:

Many, if not most, of the refugees are men of military age.

How about we take in women and children and the men put down their selfie-sticks and join our little “moderate Syrian” army? If they aren’t willing to fight for their homeland, their freedom and their families, then we have zero responsibility to care for them.

This is cold and heartless. I admit that. But if we’re going to ask US citizens to pay the tab, financially and in terms of diminished liberty, for greater security from terrorists, then it seems a very obvious STEP 1 is…don’t admit another large group of potential recruits for our enemy. Either ISIS and the fight against Islamic terrorism is one we are serious about or we’re not.

He has a point. Maybe it’s less generous than just taking them in, but then, if we actually want the carnage to stop – if these men do – then they should follow the lead of the Polish refugees or the Free French in World War II (both of whom landed in Normandy behind the U.S. and British amphibious vanguard), or the Czech Corps in World War I, or the Cuban patriots who fought at the Bay of Pigs, and form an expatriate army ready and willing to reclaim their homeland from tyrants and terrorists. Isn’t that what we would want American men to do, if our country suffered the same fate? Courage and honor are contagious. Give these men the support and the arms they need, and perhaps they can make a difference. Simply giving them shelter here and asking nothing in return will, sooner or later, put a greater burden on American soldiers to do that job for them.

photo credit Freedom House