Martin O’Malley Is Right: America Should Be Taking More Syrian Refugees

I agree. I’ll explain why after we hear from Dr. Arnaout. Then I’ll explain why I’m mentioning Martin O’Malley in the headline.

I (and about 40,000 others at last count) have been on Facebook spreading the word about a White House petition to allow Syrian refugees to resettle in the U.S. You can read the petition at the link above.

Several people have asked me why we should do anything when the regional powers, Iran and especially (as a richer and Arab country) Saudi Arabia, have done little, and whether we shouldn’t prefer to send money to support “safe zones” inside Syria instead.

This felt like it was missing the point… This is not either-or but both-and—even if you trust Riyadh to lead anything, or Riyadh and Tehran to agree on anything, or safe havens to stay safe in war zones—an oxymoron about which Yugoslavs, Rwandans, Afghans, Iraqis, and Sudanese might opine. [Chart below from Ramy Arnaout]

Personally I might suggest Riyadh and Tehran donate to tiny Lebanon, a country with an actual (but increasingly shaky) government and 30% refugees—20% of the Syrian total—than to Syria itself, but that is beside the point.

The point is, we are not Riyadh—thankfully—nor Tehran. We do not elect their leaders.

We write our Congressmen. We petition our White House. We are the United States. That should mean something.

The inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These words welcomed millions. By our alchemy this “wretched refuse” helped spawn the Greatest Generation and powered the engine of the 20th century. The mantle of that legacy now falls to us. Syria’s huddled masses yearn not to breathe free—a luxury in war—but to breathe at all. Do the words with which we caption our defining monument not include these people?

Syria gave us Steve Jobs and Jerry Seinfeld. “The business of the American people is business,” said Calvin Coolidge. As Americans, we should know a bargain when we see one. Syria is a fire sale. Lady Liberty’s “golden door” should be open with Syrian refugees first in line.

The alternative is we keep that door shut—and consider outsourcing our conscience to oil sheikhs and mullahs.

Do we want to trust the future of the world we used to lead to the mercy, generosity, and tolerance of the Saudis? Are we content to play second fiddle to the Germans and Greeks? Or can we begin to salvage our tattered reputation and sense of self by demonstrating some basic human kindness?

“You break it, you bought it,” said Colin Powell of our Iraq misadventure, one of the first dominos in the Syrian crisis. We are not the bull in this china shop, but we fed it and let it in. We owe the shopkeepers.

Reads an open letter from Icelanders to their welfare minister, pleading the good sense of neighborliness: “Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, or soulmates, the drummer for the band of our children, our next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finished the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, the fireman, the computer genius, or the television host.”

Has the flame in Lady Liberty’s lamp burned so low that the City on a Hill has to be shown the way by Reykjavik? … Let us not be shown up by the Old World or let the least charitable among us define for us what is right. Let us open our door.

In the US we’re now talking about settling 1,500 refugees so our number now rounds to “2” on the plot above. Germany, meanwhile, says its capacity is unlimited. That’s pretty incredible. Merkel must know many—most?—of those people aren’t going back. Her country has uneasy history not just re-integrating the East but with a Turkish population. Fingers crossed that the German people keep behind her—and that the refugees, while not losing their history, become fully German.

Which, as a born-and-bred, die-hard New Englander who happens to be the child of Lebanese immigrants, I think would be a truly great thing.