We have entered a new year, and yet it seems as if things haven’t changed at all in terms of the way this administration views their responsibility to displaced Iraqis throughout the Middle East. The latest numbers have come out regarding the number of Iraqi refugees that have been admitted to permanently resettle in the US and once again, they are down. This comes after the appointment of senior State Department and DHS officials, whose job it was to iron out the bureaucratic obstacles that were slowing the process. (Their own appointment follows the creation of a task force on the same issue by the Secretary of State). It is hard to fathom that the hold-up to the expedited admittance of screened, vetted refugees has any other explanation than that this is not a priority for the administration—despite the appeals of our Ambassador in Iraq Ryan Crocker and General Petraeus himself who argued that a robust refugee admittance program was vital to the ongoing US efforts in Iraq.
Prior to the release of these numbers, there was more troubling news. Just before New Year’s Eve, the President vetoed a widely popular defense authorization bill that had been debated and discussed for months because the White House’s lawyers missed a particular aspect that could expose the Iraqi government to expensive lawsuits. This bill contains important provisions for Iraqi refugees that were supported by Democrats and Republicans, and will ensure the US begins to meet its obligations to those Iraqis who helped American troops. While an amended bill will surely be passed, it is disheartening that a Defense authorization bill of such extreme importance would not be thoroughly reviewed and that we again see more delays in U.S. efforts to help Iraqi refugees.
Finally, this coming week the President will travel to the Middle East. According to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, “The trip will be an opportunity to reaffirm the enduring commitment of the United States to the security of our friends and allies in the Middle East, especially the Gulf nations.” It is abundantly clear that support for the Iraqi refugees throughout the Middle East is vital to the stability of that region. Yet, nowhere in Mr. Hadley’s comments or in the White House’s release does it mention this key issue. The president and his senior advisors seem to believe that they can ignore this problem and it will go away. It is clear that it won’t, however.
It is in the United States’ best interest to assist the Iraqi civilians who have been forced from their homes. The US should be leading the way—financially and diplomatically—to provide humanitarian assistance, find durable solutions, and ensure the safety and security of displaced Iraqis. It is my sincere hope that this visit by the president will open his eyes to the magnitude of the Iraqi refugee crisis, and that he returns to Washington with a newfound focus on finding solutions.
By Jake Kurtzer, Congressional Advocate