Terror crisis demands US leadership, not retreat

Last Friday’s coordinated terror assault on the civilians of Paris sent a shudder throughout our community. Boston knows too well the pain and grief that are prompted by the sudden, violent loss of young life at the hands of murderous fanatics who callously mow down innocents with bombs and bullets.

The domestic debate that has followed, however, has been contaminated with an unfortunate strain of isolationism and jingoism that is itself a symptom of weakness and capitulation. Americans must resist this natural reflex to turn inward or to retreat from our core values in dealing with deadly threats. It has been heartening to see President Obama stand his ground against the neo-Know Nothings who would slam the door on Syrian families seeking refuge in western countries, including our own, as a haven from the very same nihilists who stalked our Parisian brethren last Friday. Those who conflate the fight against ISIL with the flight of their Syrian victims do a grave disservice to the cause of liberty and human rights.

For all that, the president, too, deserves criticism for not articulating a clear and decisive strategy not simply to contain the ISIL terror threat, but to annihilate it. While the full-on insertion of an American-led ground force is not a preferred option, it should not be ruled out, either, as the president has done. The president needs to be more aggressive in both action and posture as he marshalls all of our resources and, in concert with our allies, directs them down onto the heads of this scourge.

Locally, we look to our delegate to Congress, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, for guidance on this complicated situation. Lynch has made repeated trips to the Mideast since taking office in 2001. He’s one of the handful of leaders in the United States who have sat across a table from Syrian president Bashar al-Assad (in a 2009 visit prior to the onset of the current civil war.) In recent months, he has met with the families in the sprawling refugee camps along Turkey’s borders.

His take: Of course the US can – and should – accept its share of Syrian asylum-seekers, which, considering the scope of the most acute refugee crisis since World War II, is actually quite modest.

“We can easily handle 10,000 Syrian refugees,” said Lynch in an interview. “I’ve been to a number of these camps on the border and these are regular families: doctors and lawyers, barristers and business-owners. These are not poor and uneducated people. A lot of them are young kids and their moms. The average age is nine years old.”

Naturally, Lynch agrees that any asylum-seeker must be properly vetted before entering the US at embassies in Beirut or Germany or Amman. But refugees are already subjected to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the US. Syrians, due to the chaotic nature of the civil war, will be given even more careful scrutiny— the details of which have been divulged to Congress in classified briefings. Leaders who have suggested otherwise —or who insinuate that only Christian Syrians merit our protection— are either shamefully uninformed or, worse, deliberately misleading the American people.

On the use of military force to strike ISIL, Lynch endorses the use of US ground troops in Syria only if they are part of a coalition that includes countries like Jordan and Turkey, with the US providing air and logistical support.

“We would have to be part of a large coalition predominated by countries in the region. If we put enough of those boots on the ground we could provide air support and logistic. But to be successful it has to be local and regional— and international- against ISIL. It cannot be the US alone. We can do no right in that region,” said Lynch.

Lynch says that while ISIL obviously craves the opportunity to bring the fight to US shores, it is unlikely to be able to mount such a threat.

“We began our aerial attacks [on ISIL targets] back in the summer of 2014. It has been a while and they’ve had that desire. It’s more difficult to strike us,” said Lynch. The French began actively bombing ISIL targets on Oct. 3, but are more vulnerable to infiltration by extremists due to their geography and demographics.

“However, knowing that we are – to them – the ‘great Satan,’ we should be on guard,” Lynch said. “Especially if they feel we are leading this coalition.”

– Bill Forry

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