“Books Not Bombs,” What a Liberal Idea

The Iraqi refugee crisis–and it is a crisis–continues to draw my interest, and, the refugees, my compassion.

Perhaps it is because of my personal involvement in another refugee crisis in the seventies; perhaps it is because, in my opinion, the tragedy is a direct, albeit unintended result of our disastrous decision to invade Iraq and our equally disastrous mismanagement of the subsequent, nearly six-year-long occupation.

While, according to some sources, the situation in Iraq seems to be improving, there is no near-term end in sight to the sheer misery that over four million displaced Iraqis are experiencing–in squalid camps in their own country and in equally sordid conditions, mostly in Syria and Jordan.

Regardless of my passion for this issue, it is always great when I come across other voices that are equally or more passionate, and especially much more eloquent and authoritative.

A few days ago, I related the expert opinion on this issue by Morton Abramowitz, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a board member of the International Rescue Committee.

Today’s New York Times had an opinion piece on the Iraqi refugees issue by none other than two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Nicholas D. Kristof.

I honestly can not think of another journalist–or for that matter, a politician or government official–who has focused more of the world’s attention on genocide, famine, global health, poverty and refugee issues in the developing world and elsewhere. Since 2004 Kristof has written dozens of columns about Darfur and visited the area eight times.

Thus, it should be no surprise that Mr. Kristof won his second Pulitzer in 2006, for commentary for what the judges called “his graphic, deeply reported columns that, at personal risk, focused attention on genocide in Darfur and that gave voice to the voiceless in other parts of the world.”

In his column, “Books not Bombs,” Kristof calls attention to what he calls the “dirty little secret” of the Iraq war:

The dirty little secret of the Iraq war isn’t in Baghdad or Basra. Rather, it’s found in the squalid brothels of Damascus and the poorest neighborhoods of East Amman.

Some two million Iraqis have fled their homeland and are now sheltering in run-down neighborhoods in surrounding countries. These are the new Palestinians, the 21st-century Arab diaspora that threatens the region’s stability.

Many youngsters are getting no education, and some girls are pushed into prostitution, particularly in Damascus. Impoverished, angry, disenfranchised, unwanted, these Iraqis are a combustible new Middle Eastern element that no one wants to address or even think about.

Kristof also writes:

We broke Iraq, and we have a moral responsibility to those whose lives have been shattered by our actions. Helping them is also in our national interest, for we’ll regret our myopia if we allow young Iraqi refugees to grow up uneducated and unemployable, festering in their societies.

In one of my pieces on this subject I quoted one of the members of our compassionate Conservative administration expressing just the opposite opinion: “…our obligation was to give [Iraqis] new institutions and provide security…” and , we don’t “have an obligation to compensate [Iraqis] for the hardships of war.” You guessed it, this was our former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton

Kristof also bemoans how little the U.S. has done towards accepting more Iraqi refugees into our country. But he also has a suggestion that would help the refugees and at the same time would address the region’s security challenges instead of “devoting billions of dollars to permanent American military bases,” as American hawks would prefer doing:

A simpler way to fight extremism would be to pay school fees for refugee children to ensure that they at least get an education and don’t become forever marginalized and underemployed.


We have already seen, in the case of Palestinians, how a refugee diaspora can destabilize a region for decades. If Jordan were to collapse in part from such pressures, that would be a catastrophe — and the best way to prevent that isn’t to give it Blackhawk helicopters, but help with school fees and school construction.

If we let the Iraqi refugee crisis drag on — and especially if we allow young refugees to miss an education so that they will never have a future — then we are sentencing ourselves to endure their wrath for decades to come. Educating Iraqis may not be as glamorous as bombing them, but it will do far more good.

Amen, Mr. Kristof, and thank you for continuing to give “voice to the voiceless in other parts of the world.”

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist