Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Americans and the Needs of Strangers

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Americans and the Needs of Strangers

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - Why should the United States take in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees? Should we make policy on the basis of searing pictures? How much suffering is never photographed or televised and therefore ignored? And what is our obligation to strangers? Humanitarians might view such questions as a form of heartlessness. Yet those who believe that we should take in many more of those fleeing violence and death need to take them seriously.

Let's begin with Donald Trump's view. "We have our own problems, he said last Wednesday. "We have very big problems between our own borders and our infrastructure and everything else."

Don't dismiss this. We do have problems, including one he doesn't directly mention: Millions of Americans face poverty, violence, unemployment and a shortage of opportunity. We are not doing nearly enough to help these fellow citizens down the street or across the nation.

It's easy for upper-middle-class humanitarians - yes, I guess I'm in this group - to speak from quite comfortable circumstances of their concern and horror over the suffering in the Middle East and Europe. Although taking in more refugees won't have much impact on our unemployment rate, jobless Americans who worry about how the new arrivals might affect their ability to find work are not morally insensitive. They are reminding us of our unmet obligations at home.

Those who favor taking in the refugees often argue that the United States helped "cause" the problem in Syria, so we have a special responsibility to resolve it. The left points to how the Iraq War destabilized the Middle East. The right and parts of the center say the United States and Europe failed to intervene soon enough in Syria's civil war to prevent it from spiraling into murderous chaos.

Even though I think the Iraq War was a mistake and don't write off the argument that the U.S. and its allies might have done more, earlier in Syria, I don't think these are persuasive reasons for acting.

Like many, I am honestly uncertain that early intervention in Syria would have worked as well as its advocates say. In any event, Syria's civil war is primarily rooted in Middle Eastern realities. …

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