Tag Archives: Syria

If Evidence Mattered…

Despite the fact that he has no legal authority to do so, Governor Pence has doubled down on his rejection of Syrian refugees. He continues to insist that he is just concerned for the safety of Indiana residents.

Indiana’s Governor lives in a wholly fact-free zone, of course. Refugees are highly unlikely to pose a threat to Hoosiers. (Unrestricted access to guns, however, which he enthusiastically supports, represents a huge and demonstrable threat…).

Not only have refugees proven to be virtually all law-abiding, but the danger posed even by genuine, avowed jihadists is actually quite low. Per The New York Times:

Despite public anxiety about extremists inspired by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, the number of violent plots by such individuals has remained very low. Since 9/11, an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in an average of six terrorism-related plots against targets in the United States. Most were disrupted, but the 20 plots that were carried out accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.

In contrast, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities, according to a study by Arie Perliger, a professor at the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. The toll has increased since the study was released in 2012.

Other data sets, using different definitions of political violence, tell comparable stories….

Meanwhile, terrorism of all forms has accounted for a tiny proportion of violence in America. There have been more than 215,000 murders in the United States since 9/11. For every person killed by Muslim extremists, there have been 4,300 homicides from other threats.

A colleague with whom I was discussing this data shared an interesting article from Slate about the venues supplying our home-grown terrorists. The article’s sub-head advised “Forget Syria. The most dangerous religious extremists are migrants from North and South Carolina.”

Today, Republican presidential candidates are climbing over one another in a race to block the entry of Syrian refugees. They’re doing this even though, among the nearly 800,000 refugees we’ve accepted since 9/11, not one has been convicted of—or has even been arrested for—plotting a terror attack in this country. (A few have been arrested for links to terrorism elsewhere.) Why do refugees have such a clean record? Because they have to go through an elaborate process: screening by U.N. evaluators, “biometric and biographic checks,” consultations with U.S. counterterrorism agencies, and an in-person interview with the Department of Homeland Security. On average, the process takes about a year and a half—or, in the case of Syrian refugees, about two years.

Terrorists from North Carolina encounter no such scrutiny. They just climb into their cars, cross the border, and proceed to Georgia, Kansas, or Colorado. They’re protected by Article IV of the Constitution, which, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, guarantees citizens “the right of free ingress into other States.” That’s why, among the 27 fatal terror attacks inflicted in this country since 9/11, 20 were committed by domestic right-wing extremists. (The other seven attacks were committed by domestic jihadists, not by foreign terrorist organizations.) Of the 77 people killed in these 27 incidents, two-thirds died at the hands of anti-abortion fanatics, “Christian Identity” zealots, white anti-Semites, or other right-wing militants.

The writer concluded by wondering “why, as we close our doors to refugees who have done us no harm, we pay so little attention to our enemies within.”

Let’s be candid, even if the Governor isn’t: it’s because we fear those who don’t look like “us.”


I haven’t posted anything about the situation in Syria, because–to be utterly candid–I’m conflicted about it. Not about Assad–he’s a vicious dictator–but about what America should or could do that wouldn’t simply make a horrible situation worse.

I don’t consider myself either a hawk or a dove; I opposed our intervention in Iraq, but not Afghanistan, because the situations were very different. Afghanistan had harbored and supported the people who attacked us. Iraq was an obvious war of choice, trumped up by people who quite clearly had no understanding of the complex political realities of the Middle East. Furthermore, we had international support for our response to Afghanistan, and a pathetic, trumped-up “Coalition of the Willing” for our aggression in Iraq.

Justified or not, neither war went well.

Now I am listening to the arguments for and against a “targeted” action against Syria. The President’s argument–Syria has defied international norms and inaction will send a message that such violations can continue with impunity–resonates with me. But so does the argument that another “go it alone” cowboy intervention in the world’s most dangerous region is likely to end badly, doing more harm than good.

Until I read this post by Andrew Sullivan, I thought I was the only person impatient with the self-righteous moralists on both ends of the political spectrum. On the Right, we have the American Exceptionalists who believe we should be the world’s policemen, not to mention the irony-challenged chickenhawks who pontificate about saving the lives of Muslims they routinely stereotype and discriminate against here at home;  on the Left, we have the anti-imperialism scolds who loudly accuse anyone considering any intervention of any sort for any reason guilty of moral turpitude and/or commercial intent. To both camps, waging war or not is apparently a simple decision, to be made without any ambivalence or concern for the truly disastrous consequences that could flow from a wrong decision.

A recent article by George Packer in The New Yorker made all of these points far more clearly than I can. (Actually, this article from the Onion did an even better job of laying out the unattractive options–and when the Onion is the voice of sanity, that sort of sums it all up.)

Whatever we do, act or refrain from acting,  prudence requires that we think carefully about the pitfalls. What do we want to accomplish,  what decisions and tactics are likely to achieve that goal, and at what cost–not just in human lives and dollars, but to America’s long-term international interests?

I’m all for realpolitik. I just don’t know what it looks like right now.