CNN posted a new article that the U.S. has set a new historic low limit for refugees. The subtext made it seem like the United States can only be loving and compassionate if they accept the number of refugees that you deem necessary and, of course, that Trump is horrible and anti-immigrant. But that doesn’t consider the example America sets in helping nations become free and prosperous, nor the many aid programs America has, and it’s a facile, down-river complaint that doesn’t address the root causes of refugees.
My belief has always been that America should show that they love and care about people around the world by helping make sure they don’t become refugees in the first place, or if they do, by giving them options to stay in their homeland. This is always tough because leaders that preemptively try to solve problems or intervene to nip them in the bud are attacked as meddling, imperialist, warmongers. But then the same supposedly horrible country is expected to clean up messes from around the world.
There is a great quote from a classical Chinese philosopher that discussed how people get little credit for solving problems before they become crises, and I feel it applies a great deal in foreign policy debates: “When a house burns and someone saves it, then we know their virtue. But the elderly who daub chimney cracks to guard against fire, thereby living their whole lives without the misfortune of stray flames causing a fire: their virtue remains unknown…
Misfortunes also have chimneys and if worthies were to travel the world to aid in daubing them, then the world would have no military suffering, yet none would know their virtue. There it is sad: ‘Sagely people rectify things when they are yet spirituous [or forming]; stupid people contend with things after they have become obvious.'” (Shizi: China’s First Syncretist, Paul Fischer trans., [Columbia University Press, 2012,] 67-68.)
I just read an article about the Rohingya Muslims; the subtext of the article was that America is so horrible because it doesn’t take all of them or sets new lower limits on immigration. But this problem is somewhat easier to solve than most. A repatriation program already exists but the Muslims want certain rights and protections like citizenship, and America could certainly influence Myanmar to provide them. In Syria we could have provided no-fly zones that would create safe areas where refugees could make a new life and rebuild in their own country. Or we could have provided a more robust program for nearby American allies like Jordan to help them. Instead, nobody really did much, especially the Europeans that were far closer, and then we debated what to do with the resulting refugee crisis. So calling one side or the other unloving or uncaring is exploiting a downstream complaint and problem that doesn’t address the root causes that create refugees and economic migrants. Trump isn’t anti-immigrant or uncaring, but instead consistently wants others to increase their assistance ranging from NATO members spending more on defense to the intake of refugees.