Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Iraqi Refugees

During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, more than 5.5 million refugees left the country. As of 2004, only 3.5 million Afghan refugees had returned home. We are rapidly creating the same conditions in Iraq and producing enormous strains on the surrounding countries (that alone is good reason why we need to have regional talks). With the latest on the Iraqi refugee situation is Warren P. Strobel of the McClatchy Washington Bureau:
One out of every seven Iraqis has fled his or her home or sought refuge abroad, the largest movement of people in the Middle East since the war that followed Israel's creation in 1948, according to United Nations officials and relief workers. Every day, violence displaces an estimated 1,300 more Iraqis in the country; every month, at least 40,000.


On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the creation of a high-level State Department task force on the refugee issue. State Department officials said the Bush administration will expand the number of refugees it allows into the U.S., with special attention given to Iraqis who may be at risk because they worked for the U.S. government. But the administration would admit only 20,000 Iraqis at most this year.

In his just-released budget, President Bush asked for $35 million to help Iraq's refugees in fiscal year 2008, plus $15 million in supplemental funding for this year.


The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimated in a report last month that there are as many as 2 million Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, primarily in Syria and Jordan. Another 1.7 million people are displaced within Iraq, the UNHCR said.

Refugees started fleeing Iraq several years ago and Condi Rice is just now creating a task force. That's par for the Bush Administration. At any time in at least the last four years, the Republicans in Congress could have raised the issue and they did not. That too is par for this generation of Republican conservatives in Washington.

The amount that Bush is allocating for Iraqi refugees is a pitiful drop in the bucket for addressing 2 million refugees outside the country and 1.7 million inside the country. This is a mess he created; he needs to acknowledge it and he needs to deal with it.

There are important lessons from the recent past. A large part of the current mess in Afghanistan was a product of essentially allowing the Afghans to do our fighting against the Soviet Union and then abandoning them after their country was ruined. It's true that during the 1980s we gave the Afghans weapons but we did little else. When the Soviet Union left, we could have done much to stabilize the country without having to send troops, but George H. W. Bush chose to do nothing. I regard the senior Bush as the better president in the Bush family but he was not without his shortcomings and the neglect of Aghanistan may have been his biggest blunder (and not the so-called failure to remove Saddam Hussein in 1991—the senior Bush and his advisers correctly read the high cost of that scenario). There should be no doubt left that Iraq is in a civil war and that the refugee crisis will only grow. George W. Bush needs to do more than keep changing the subject.

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