Counter-Terrorism and Refugee Protection

It should be clear simply from the subject of this blog that there are a lot of things on which I disagree with President Trump. However, many refugee advocates have gone so far as to denounce all of his policy ideas outright instead of carefully evaluating ways in which some of them might actually be beneficial to refugees. In this article I want to discuss counter-terrorism and refugee protection, and how President Trump’s promises to be tough on terrorism may also help refugees.

Domestic Vs. Foreign Counter-Terrorism

I completely disagree with President Trump and his administration’s domestic counter-terrorism policies presented in the form of his executive orders. (I have already written on his first and second executive orders concerning refugees, so I won’t repeat my specific opinions here.) However, we have yet to see exactly how he will handle foreign counter-terrorism, but I think this is where he could be more successful. Over 99% of refugees will never be resettled to a third country and of the more than 20 million refugees in the world today only 50,000 will be resettled in the US this year. My point is that far more refugees will potentially be affected by US foreign policy than by our domestic policies.

The US is the most powerful nation in the world. We spend far more on our military than any other country, and President Trump plans to drastically increase that spending. Based on his campaign platform and his early days in office, President Trump does not appear to be timid about carrying out military operations against terrorist organizations. He has pledged to defeat ISIS and to support very strong foreign counter-terrorism efforts. I am in favor of strong foreign counter-terrorism policies because I believe they have the potential to benefit the greatest number of refugees.

Organizations like ISIS terrorize their victims, killing some, and torturing and enslaving others. However, their detrimental effects go beyond individual victims. The presence of terrorist organizations in a country destabilizes the entire region and sometimes the entire state government. When developing countries are already struggling with corruption, the presence of terrorist organizations further increases government corruption, therefore increasing the oppression and disenfranchisement of vulnerable groups.

For example, only a small fraction of Syrian refugees have been persecuted directly by ISIS, but the presence of ISIS in the country has greatly complicated the conflict and made the civil war even more difficult to resolve. While defeating ISIS cannot completely solve the Syrian crisis, it would be a significant step in the right direction. I support strong foreign counter-terrorism policies because when terrorist organizations are eradicated there are fewer potential refugees.

Caution and Planning Are Still Important

However, one caveat must still be made in this discussion of counter-terrorism. The US must not seek to defeat terrorism just for the sake of “winning”, but primarily because people’s lives and freedoms are at stake. I am worried that President Trump and his administration could easily lose sight of this and recklessly launch military operatives simply for the sake of winning. Caution and planning coupled with compassion and purpose are absolutely necessary or the victims of terrorism will suffer along with the terrorists.

This happened just recently in the battle against ISIS in Mosul, Iraq. Approximately 200 civilians were killed in US led airstrikes against ISIS, reportedly because of hasty communication between the parties involved. These casualties are absolutely unacceptable. We cannot kill the hostages of ISIS and claim it was the only way to kill ISIS fighters as well. We have the most brilliant military minds in the world, so though it may be more difficult, there has to be a better way. Counter-terrorism and refugee protection should go hand-in-hand, but unfortunately, we’ve confused the two. Instead of using counter-terrorism to protect refugees and other civilians, we’ve begun to see them as unavoidable collateral damage in the pursuit of our mission to defeat terrorist organizations.

As refugee advocates and others who support refugee resettlement are speaking out against the latest executive order, I would urge us not to overlook President Trump’s other actions and policies that have the potential to benefit millions of refugees if carried out in a cautious and compassionate manner. Let’s advocate for refugees no matter where they are and recognize that we can agree with our president on some things while disagreeing on others.

Further Reading

A great piece from the Preemptive Love Coalition about US airstrikes in Mosul.  The heartbreaking story of a woman who lost her entire family in the Mosul airstrike.