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Dan Simpson: The United States owns part of Europe’s migrant problem


The biggest problem of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa at the moment is massive migration.

It is a result of American direct and indirect war-making in recent years in those regions. Most Americans regard the problem as someone else’s. We get away with it because people don’t think the matter through.

The United States is responsible for two aspects of the problem. The first is that we have massively disrupted the societies and economies of the countries that are producing the refugees through war. The second source of our responsibility is that our role in the overthrow of the government in Libya turned that country into a rat’s nest of chaos and non-government. The result is that Libya has come to serve as the jumping-off point for the boatloads of African and other refugees jamming their way into Southern Europe and even trying to cross the English Channel.

A quick glance at the countries of origin of the refugees make America’s role clear. They are Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians, nationals of countries where we have tried to determine what government should be in power, including by raining countless bombs and drone-mounted missiles down on them. In each of these countries, America has destroyed order and the economy, making life unbearable and employment unobtainable. Put another way, we have turned Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria into countries that people are desperate to escape, no longer able to imagine their lives there given the dangerous, lawless cauldrons the countries have become.

In Afghanistan, the original punishment of the country for having served as the host of the 9/​11 attacks on the United States is fully comprehensible and justifiable. Having troops there 14 years later, still trying to determine through military means what party rules the country, is not justifiable, or even comprehensible, unless one subscribes to the theory that America is totally dependent on and run by the military-industrial complex. Or there is a Shakespearian king’s advice to his son and successor “to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels,” which seems to tempt American presidents.

Iraq is the same. The first Gulf War was justifiable because Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had seized Kuwait, a sovereign state. George W. Bush carried out his invasion of Iraq in 2003 as the only means to be reelected, as a “war president.” Unfortunately we are still there, trying to re-arrange the furniture by military force 12 years later.

Syria is difficult. Bashar Assad is definitely not a philosopher-king. On the other hand, our efforts through intermediaries to get rid of him have given rise to an increasingly credible Islamic State that appears to be more difficult than Ebola to get rid of.

Nor would anyone argue that Moammar Gadhafi wasn’t a tyrant. But now there is no effective government in Libya, and something Mr. Gadhafi would never have permitted — free transit of thousands of migrants across his territory, many of them bound for death at sea — is now the order of the day in that failed North African state.

The United States was a direct participant in the replacement of Mr. Gadhafi’s government in Libya, along with former colonial powers France, Italy and the United Kingdom.

The prime victims of all this are the refugees themselves. Their immediate dilemma — hunger, disease, homelessness — is far beyond the resources of the humanitarian world to meet. Their long-term dilemma, the inability to live any longer in their countries of origin because of destruction and disorder, as much as anything else caused by us, is close to impossible to deal with.

Dealing with many of the migrants is left in no small part to Greece, Europe’s most economically damaged state, wracked with debt and unemployment.

America needs to think about its role in creating this tragedy and to take action to help the Europeans contend with it. No one expects us to take in masses of these people, but maybe we should — or at least help the Europeans proportionately with the problem. We could also stop continuing to provoke the flow of migrants from the countries where we continue to make war.