By Elijah Helton
“From this moment on, it’s going to be America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”
This was President Donald Trump’s promise last year during his inaugural address. One of the president’s early “America First” decisions was to cut the number of refugees taken in from Syria. Fast forward to April 13, when the United States collaborated with British and French forces to launch a strike on Syria’s military resources. The reason? Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad reportedly used chemical weapons to kill dozens of his own people.
The strike may have been justified, but the United States must resume accepting Syrian refugees. The Syrian conflict has been raging since 2011, and it’s the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today. It is our responsibility as the most resourceful country in history to aid in ending the conflict.
One of the most important things to keep in mind while discussing the Syrian refugee crisis is the enemy is the Assad regime, not the citizens of Syria themselves. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, there are more than 5.6 million refugees currently outside their home country and millions more displaced within Syria’s borders. Refugees aren’t the military or armed rebels. They are innocent civilians forced to flee from a leader willing to kill them to stay in power.
I’m not particularly opposed to this strike from the U.S. and its allies. The bombing targeted Assad’s chemical weapons, and there have been no reports of civilian casualties at the time of publication. However, I worry that more regular involvement will result in innocent Syrians being killed. Perhaps collateral damage is necessary if the Syrian conflict is to end before this decade does, but bombs and aggressive diplomacy are not enough.
After all, the reason given by the Trump administration for the attack was Assad’s resumption of attacking his people with chemical weapons. We say we can’t tolerate the indecency of that of violence (as if death by chlorine gas is more fatal than death by gunshot). But if we can’t tolerate that, shouldn’t we also reject the state of the Syrian refugees living abroad? About 3.5 million are currently in Turkey. Nearly 1 million in Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands more in nearby Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. These are poor nations with their own problems, but by mere coincidence in geography, they have been forced to take in foreigners fleeing for their lives. This is where the United States and other, better-equipped nations can save the day.
When the refugee crisis last had an extended stint in the news cycle, detractors said it could lead to terrorists sneaking in. Trump said “extreme vetting” should be in place before we consider caring for these homeless millions. But there are plenty of safeguards in place. A potential refugee from Syria has to go through a tiring bureaucratic process that includes screening from the aforementioned U.N. Refugee Agency, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and several other agencies and terrorism databases.
In short, if the United States wants to protect Syrian civilians, it must care for Syrian refugees, not just launch missiles at their barbaric government.