Posted Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007, at 4:28 PM ET
Rarely do morality and strategy come together in the Middle East—particularly in the case of Iraq. Yet there is one area where the right thing for Iraq is also the best option for America’s long-term interests: preventing the Iraqi refugee crisis from further destabilizing the region. So far, the debate in the United States has focused on the fates of Iraqis who have worked with U.S. diplomats and soldiers, as translators and so on. Although these individuals are owed a special debt, our responsibility does not end there. The United States should accept tens of thousands of refugees and must encourage other major powers to do the same. Washington should also initiate a program to boost the capacity of neighboring states to host refugees and prevent them from becoming a source of instability.
Although casualty reports dominate the headlines, Iraq is also suffering a staggering exodus of refugees. More than 2 million Iraqis—from a total population of 27 million—have fled the chaos, and the numbers grow every day. (Even more Iraqis have fled their homes but have resettled in other parts of Iraq, thus technically avoiding the label “refugee.”) So far, the migrants have clustered in nations close to Iraq, particularly in Syria and Jordan. U.S. efforts to help these refugees have ranged from feeble to nonexistent. The United States has so far taken in barely more than 1,000 Iraqi refugees but will reportedly boost this to 12,000 next year: a significant percentage increase on the surface but only when the absurdly low base rate is considered.
It is both morally abhorrent and strategically ill-advised to abandon these refugees. To state the obvious, the U.S. failure to establish security in Iraq drove them to leave their homes. Literally millions of people have fled under horrific circumstances, and the United States bears much of the responsibility. Americans may, understandably, say that they can no longer sacrifice to bring stability to Iraq, but that does not excuse us from the broader duty to help those who continue to suffer.