One of the current presidential candidates -- either Hillary Clinton, John McCain or Barack Obama -- will eventually have to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and its spillover into neighboring countries. Jordan and Syria, both fragile states to begin with, now host a combined total of over 2 million Iraqis. Iraq, an even more fragile state, contains about 2.5 million people uprooted from their homes and traumatized by violence in their own country. According to the letter from Ferris:
Even in the best of cases — security improves, coalition forces are drawn down, Iraqi military capacity is strengthened — there will still be almost five million Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who will need your help to find solutions. If they don’t find solutions — if they remain homeless, jobless, destitute, and vulnerable to abuse and exploitation — the ramifications will be widespread for Iraq and for the region. And if the conflict takes a turn for the worse — which could happen if the al-Sadr ceasefire is revoked, or the Sunni awakening subsides, or the Concerned Local Citizens turn into independent militias — the humanitarian crisis could deteriorate dramatically. If this should happen, the political and security situation will inevitably worsen.Indeed, the Iraqi humanitarian crisis is going to be a huge problem confronting the next President. Will he or she choose to look the other way, as our current President has, or protract the same old tired argument over whether the 2003 Iraq invasion should have happened instead of owning up to our responsibilities to the victims of that invasion?
The Brookings-Bern letter is full of great ideas on how the next President should handle this crisis. First and foremost, the letter instructs, BE A LEADER. Acknowledge the U.S. role in creating the problem. Make clear that the U.S. has a responsibility to the victims of this war. Make a strong commitment to responding to the humanitarian needs of Iraqis, and follow through on that commitment.
Why? Addressing the humanitarian crisis is the right thing to do. It will help re-establish U.S. moral standing in the international community. It will take a step toward repairing the damaged U.S. reputation in the Muslim world. It will indicate a change from the previous administration — a change which will potentially benefit millions of people. Without presidential leadership at this critical juncture, the likely consequences for your Iraq policy and for Middle East peace and stability are dire.The letter goes on to outline specific policy recommendations the next President ought to consider: establishing an Iraq Humanitarian Czar with Presidential access, broadening inter-agency collaboration, working through multilateral channels, developing humanitarian benchmarks. For the full read (and it's a good one), click here. But, the letter concludes, the most important thing for the next President to do is SOMETHING: "at the least, I hope that you will think about the issues, and perhaps be inspired to take different steps to address the underlying humanitarian and security problems." The next President needs to think about this problem, acknowledge it, and take action.
We're working to make sure the candidates get the message.