Politicians in the U.S. (Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren notably excepted) are absorbed with tossing out buzz words and insulting each other; the bureaucracy is fighting fires; the media report the most trivial remarks of the most trivial politicians, because that sells. Who is thinking about the future?
The current European refugee crisis is but the tip of the global refugee crisis that may become the central issue of the next generation, as the result not primarily of political conflict but global warming. More precisely, whatever political reasons for violence may exist, they will be supplemental causes of a crisis that will primarily be provoked by climate change and its two immediate consequences: water shortages and food shortages, both of which will provide far more genuine reasons for fighting than sectarian discrimination or religious debates.
Turkey already seems to be using the threat of “releasing” its two million Syrian refugees to blackmail Europe. So the U.S. and West Europe watch quietly, cowed by the implicit if not expressed Turkish threat, while Erdogan undermines Western interests in Syria and Iraq and pushes Turkey domestically toward sectarianism and authoritarianism, thereby significantly exacerbating the refugee problem. The journal Population Connection [Oct 2015] estimates that global warming alone (not political violence) may produce 300,000,000 global displaced people by 2050. Who in Washington is preparing to manage the care and feeding of such a tsunami–equivalent to the total U.S. population? Who is evaluating whether or not any government on the planet will be able to stay in power under such conditions?
If thinking 30 years out gives you a headache, then here’s an immediate problem: who is ensuring that the hundreds of thousands of current Syrian child refugees in refugee camps outside of Syria today are being educated? Abandoned and marginalized by the world, these hundreds of thousands of kids will grow up to be frustrated, bitter prey and/or the leaders of a new wave of global insurrection. The security of us all over the next generation requires that leaders today fund a little insurance against this totally predictable fire.
By my own count, there are now five failed states in the world, and that is not even counting Afghanistan, nor, to be honest, does this estimate take into account the various candidates (aside from Somalia) across Africa. But the current list of failed states, however one calculates it, is just the tip of the failing state iceberg. The refugee population of Jordan is now 10% of the total Jordanese population; for Lebanon, the percentage is 20% [Foreign Policy Jan-Feb 2016, 35]. Perhaps the combination of unbelievable generosity by the people of these two countries so used to adversity themselves and help by global powers will suffice for a time, but over the medium term, this burden cannot but threaten the collapse of these two states as well. And who could afford to donate the needed resources if China or India (not to mention Turkey or Bangladesh or Pakistan) were faced with a refugee flow equal to 20% of its population?
Am I being alarmist? Does the inclusion of Turkey surprise you? Just from the domestic conflict between the ruling party since the fall re-election of Erdogan and Turkey’s Kurds, Turkey already–in only three months!!– has an estimated 200,000 domestic refugees, and that appalling estimate comes from Turkish media, which are under extreme government pressure to avoid publicizing the scope of the on-going domestic Turkish tragedy [Today’s Zaman]! That adds to the 2,000,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey. (Turkey could, of course, alleviate its refugee problem somewhat by facilitating their passage to Europe.)*
One might well wonder what Turkey’s reaction to this refugee burden w be. Turkey, only this very month termed by the mainstream U.S. journal Foreign Policy [Jan-Feb, 34] “a bulwark of stability on Europe’s southeastern flank” has in fact become exactly the opposite. Turkey’s foreign policy toward the Mideast combines 1) coddling of, if not actual alliance with, ISIS; 2)the arming of Syrian Turkmen insurgents; and 3) outright military attacks on Syrian Kurds who are currently the most successful military force resisting ISIS. Moreover, Turkey has succeeded in blending a new domestic insurrection with the old Syrian civil war and–by the harshly military nature of its domestic urban counter-insurgency warfare tactics–has stimulated a domestic refugee flow that will surely blend with the regional refugee flow. Instability now flows across the border separating Turkey from the rest of the Mideast, reminding one of another international border that all but vanished under waves of insurrectionary and international violence: that between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The huge Kurdish region of Turkey today is beginning to resemble Waziristan. Erdogan today is emblematic of the many world leaders who focus on the military band-aid to cover up deep-seated socio-political disease.
Back in the U.S., aside from a flood of abusive and racist demagogery by a few self-absorbed politicians who obviously believe the American people to be so stupid that such remarks can get them into the White House, is anyone in power even thinking about ways to cope with the quite rapidly intensifying long-term consequences of this global socio-political disease of collapsing living conditions displacing and radicalizing peaceful populations?
At least two steps need to be taken immediately to deal with both the current Mideast chaos and the long-term global refugee threat on the horizon: begin very publicly concrete measures to shift the balance of resources away from the military arena into support for civilians to improve the situation of current Mideast war refugee and launch a public debate on how to set a new long-term policy to prepare for the greater refugee emergency that will emerge over the next generation as the result of global warming.
*NB: Europeans should be aware that the Kurdish population of Iraq is at least 10,000,000.
Short-term Steps Forward
1. Take care of refugees. They are the ones who like the West; they are a resource…and we in the West owe them.
2. Employ adult refugees. Let them build their new homes and run schools for their kids.
3. Educate the kids. We need them to grow up to be good citizens.
4. Promote non-sectarian behavior. Insist on the Kurds setting an example; criticize and penalize Kurds for taking revenge on Sunni civilians. Make clear to Ankara the penalties for promoting sectarianism and punishing academics or journalists who exercise the right to free speech.
5. Create civilian safe zones. Promote, at least through diplomacy and economic aid, the identification of civilian safe zones in return for local non-sectarian governance. Negotiate with Turkey an agreement for Turkmen safe zones (perhaps one in Syria and one in Iraq) in return for recognition of Kurdish Rojava.
6. Terminate all support for Saudi military intervention in Yemen. At a minimum, strive to restrict the Yemeni conflict to the national actors, rather than its current “proxy war” situation. Then, promote serious peace talks for a government of national reconciliation.
7. Terminate the U.S. policy of conducting drone attacks as SOP. Replace endless drone war with a policy of last-resort attacks after all diplomatic and international police options have been attempted, by express written presidential authorization on a case-by-case basis. Drone warfare instead of the rule of law is a policy that will backfire.