Refugee Clout | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Refugee Clout 

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One of my conservative Republican buddies, Don Almeida—a Fox News-watching dentist who's leaning toward Trump—and I don't agree on much of anything when it comes to politics. In fact, we just discovered our first point of common consensus, and that may be significant for more than just the two of us.

During a discussion of the Islamist State group dilemma, Almeida floated the nucleus of an idea that I've since expanded. Pardon my presumptuousness, but what a Tea Party sympathizer and his ultra-lib friend have just concocted with may just be the solution to the Syrian/Iraqi/ISIS problem that could reduce the risk of domestic terrorism and could also appeal to most sides in the refugee debate. But first, some history.

During World War II, most of Europe fell under Nazi control. Many citizens of those countries fled their homelands, but most didn't sit idly in refugee camps or in sanctuary countries. Instead, they were formed into expatriate military units. The army of Free France, for example, was composed of French citizens in exile, and it distinguished itself valiantly in battle against the Third Reich. That's where future French president Charles de Gaulle came to prominence. Similar units were formed by Poles, Czechs, Norwegians, Belgians and several others, and all contributed to the defeat of Hitler's Wehrmacht.

Many other citizens who opposed Nazi and fascist aggression remained in their own occupied countries but formed secret subversive paramilitary forces that engaged in acts of espionage or sabotage. These partisan bands also made significant contributions toward harassing and ultimately defeating the Axis.

Likewise, in the war in the Pacific, Chinese, Philippine and other nationals organized in various ways to fight the Japanese. Many of these efforts received training and logistical support to a greater or lesser degree from Allied forces.

Secondly, in times of crisis, nations regularly summon their own citizens to fight, and such calls to action often do not come voluntarily. Conscription has been a reality in U.S. history since before the creation of our republic. Military service in local militias was required in colonial times and continued after Independence. The first draft by the federal government came about through the Enrollment Act of 1863, and, although at times bitterly opposed as during the Civil War, World War I and Vietnam, conscription has been a key element for staffing armies during times of all major conflicts and some minor ones ever since.

Finally, throughout U.S. history, our nation has been a beacon and refuge for those escaping tyranny and persecution in the homelands. Since the founding of our country, it has been a point of national pride that we do take in refugees, especially those who assisted in U.S.-sponsored activities before their lands were taken over by opposing forces and consequently face reprisals.

So why not creatively combine all of these elements to protect the worthy refugees who are fleeing oppression or extermination in Syria and Iraq and ratchet up the battle to defeat the Islamic State and other terrorist groups? This is an idea that would engage those who will benefit the most from defeating extremism to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. This concept is so simple, I can't believe it hasn't already been developed by our political leaders, but here goes.

The U.S. and other nations with adequate resources could conceivably take many more refugees under this arrangement. It allows all women, children, the infirm and elderly to enter well-organized and protected refugee camps or take up temporary residence in host countries. On the other hand, all able-bodied men—let's say between 16 and 60—would be "drafted for the duration," just like my father and uncles were during WWII, into fighting units that would be trained and equipped by coalition forces and then be deployed to take back their countries from extremist forces.

This arrangement would have several benefits and advantages over sending Americans or Europeans to fill the boots on the ground:

1. These warriors would be extremely well-motivated.

2. Their military pay would go toward supporting their families living in host countries.

3. Having them engaged in combat abroad eliminates the risk of any being infiltrators intent on carrying out acts of terrorism in host countries.

4. Any potential extremists would be closely watched and most likely discovered by being in close contact with their countrymen. Some might even be de-radicalized by the experience, but those who are not could be dealt with by their peers without involving us.

5. The understanding would be that any fighters who defected and became extremists would have their families deported back to their home countries and dropped at the border without further assistance.

6. Any conscientious objectors would be given non-combatant medical, technical or clerical duties.

7. These troops could form the nucleus of the reconstituted military and police forces in their home countries and would receive veterans' benefits and other help to relocate and rehouse them and their families once ISIS is defeated and the situation stabilizes.

I'm sure this concept could be enhanced and expanded, but it's a start. You might even share your version of it with your elected representatives. I'm just about to do that with mine. While this certainly won't appeal to committed pacifists, I can't think of any other solution that could accomplish as much while being appealing to just about anyone who is anywhere on the political spectrum. CW

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