Thursday, July 05, 2007

Doing the Right Thing, Patriotically

As I made my rounds in the House and Senate office buildings last week, visiting with various Congressional staffers about Iraqis displaced by violence, one of my most effective points turned out to be that the U.S. looks really bad internationally when we fail to protect those Iraqis who supported the invasion and worked for/with us to try to rebuild their country. These people put their lives on the line every day, and many endured humiliating treatment, because they believed in us and what we were trying to do. And we've been leaving them high-and-dry when they most need us.

I don't mean to be unpatriotic during 4th of July week, but reading their stories in EPIC's latest
Ground Truth Interview with Kirk Johnson made me feel ashamed of my country. Our failure to fulfill even our own low quotas for resettling refugees is morally reprehensible and just plain wrong.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way. According to
polls conducted by the Pew Research Center and released on June 27th, the U.S. image in the eyes of the rest of the world is steadily declining. Only 25 of the 47 countries surveyed reported positive views of the U.S., and all by margins much lower than in previous surveys. Meanwhile, 37 of 47 countries reported little or no trust in President Bush to do the right thing in world affairs (as you can see in the graph, left, Putin also got low scores).

I find this incredibly disturbing, but not surprising. Abandoning the refugees is just one important example of recent foreign policy bungles by the U.S. government. The fact is, we have proven time and time again that we're only out for #1, and the rest of the world has noticed.

The good news is, by "we" I mean the U.S. government, and not the American people at large. The Pew study also asked participants about their attitudes towards Americans, and the findings were far less dismal. Although margins have still fallen since 2002, nearly every country rates our people higher than our government. I find that encouraging.

But clearly, the U.S. government needs to do more to earn back the respect of the world, and can start by passing the Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act (H.R. 2265) in the House and the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act (S. 1651) in the Senate. And if you haven't done so already, you can still join over 2,000 Americans in writing to your Members of Congress to request their support for these bills.

While I may not be proud of my government right now, I'm hopeful that, with the help of good American people, we can still turn this around. And I'm still proud to be an American.


Anonymous said...

There's no doubt we have to do more about this growing problem. It will be impossible to get co-operation from people who do not feel they can depend on our help if the need arises. It's just common sense. So where does the buck stop?

Anonymous said...

At least Russia is warming up to Bush!

Anonymous said...

It will be difficult even for a newly elected government to reverse such a dramatic decline in international public perception of the US.

Will it also be difficult to gain international support when we continue to act on our own, even in 'good' humanitarian efforts in Iraq.

Emily Stivers said...

Agreed with all - it's a huge problem and even a new administration will have a lot of trouble with it. But I don't think it's impossible, and I know we have to start somewhere. Doing right by Iraqi refugees seems a good place to me, and the bills we advocate would give money to the UN High Council on Refugees (UNHCR) as well as support to the governments of countries hosting refugees. That's not acting on our own at all - that's doing the right thing and engaging the international community to do so.

concerned said...

We should help them but if they come here, I hope they don't end up working against us as so many other factions seem to have. (Look at the problems in Great Britain).

Emily Stivers said...

Concerned - to answer your question, here is an excerpt from our recent Ground Truth Interview with Kirk Johnson.

"epic: What would you say to those who are resistant to bringing Iraqis to the U.S. because they are afraid they might turn around and attack our country in the end?

Kirk: It’s unlikely. But let’s walk through what would need to happen for such a scenario to take place.

Al-Qa’eda would have needed to be in Iraq in the very first days of the war, recruiting the Western-oriented Iraqis who loved America and were thrilled that we toppled Saddam. Then, they would have had to direct these ‘terrorists’ to come work for the United States in spite of phenomenal risks, passing
daily through Green Zone checkpoints that are routinely attacked by car-bombs, IEDs, and snipers. And they would have to face the same risks on the way home.

These Iraqis would have to work for us for years, translating for us, eating with us and helping us rebuild their country. When things got rough, say their brother is murdered or children are abducted or their house is raked by AK-47 gunfire, they’d have to go to their American employers in the Green Zone and ask for help. But they’d get nothing more than a “good luck” and maybe a couple months of administrative leave.

To flee Iraq and resettle in the U.S., they would have to pay exorbitant bribes for safe passage through Anbar Province, and hope that they could get into Syria or Jordan. There, they’d languish in waiting for a protracted series of UNHCR interviews, required by the State Department, all the while facing an increasingly hostile anti-Iraqi populace in Damascus and Amman. Given that only one Iraqi was settled in April, and one in May, they’d have to stretch their meager savings as long as possible. Then, miraculously, they’d have to make it through the series of DHS background checks.

After all of this, if they are resettled in the United States and then attack us, Al-Qa’eda is more sophisticated than we’ll ever know. All of the Americans who served in Iraq, who are struggling
to help their fleeing Iraqi colleagues and allies, would become scapegoats. I’m willing to take that risk.

If we are so crippled by our fear of terrorists that we blind ourselves to our moral obligations to save those who served us and now need help, then we have already lost the war on terror."

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