Posted on September 17, 2015 in Countdown

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As pressure continued to mount around greater action to aid Syrian refugees, the White House announced last week that they expect to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, up from the original estimate of 5,000-8,000. An additional 2,000 people out of the fire is not insignificant but let's be clear it's still a woefully inadequate number for a wealthy well-developed country like ours. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) on Tuesday called the 10,000 figure "too modest" and said "we should be prepared to accept 100,000 Syrian refugees." The International Rescue Committee and thousands of petitioners are calling for the U.S. to admit 65,000 Syrian refugees. AAI backs substantial increases in the numbers of refugees admitted and has signed on to a Refugee Council USA letter to raise the U.S. annual refugee ceiling (currently 70,000) to 200,000 with 100,000 of those accepted being Syrian. It's been reported that the White House, in response to the massive numbers of Syrian refugees, is meeting this week to discuss increasing the U.S. refugee numbers overall to 85,000 next year and 100,000 by 2017. In any case, increasing the number of refugees accepted is one thing, the more difficult job will be laying the necessary groundwork in communities across our country to accommodate war weary refugees.  This October we'll be speaking with individuals and groups engaged in that work at our National Leadership Conference


Let the Pundits be Pundits, We’ll Take On the Policy

With over 4 hours of debate film to pilfer for squabbles and metrics and soundbites, the media is doing its job quite competently in covering all the drama of CNN’s GOP debate last night on CNN. But buried between high school fights and yawn-worthy resume readings, we caught our first look at the foreign policy war taking place in the Republican party’s candidate field. Candidates were fighting to outdo each other on two scores: 1) Criticizing President Obama’s failed foreign policy. And, 2) Promising to subdue all the causes of all of the world’s most complex conflicts. Whether through measured and cautious response (notably from Rand, Rubio, Bush, and Kasich) or outright military conquest (articulated by Graham, Jindal, Trump, Cruz) each of the candidates is fully confident that fixing the worlds problems is as easy as having the courage to do so. Aside from the cringeworthy “Arab names” comment from Trump, we were overall pleased to hear actual policies and outright disagreement on how would-be presidents would handle a variety of foreign policy issues from the Iran deal to Syria and combatting ISIL. We’re spending the day updating our candidate profiles with all the notable policy statements, so make sure to check them out.


Wave the Flag

This week, in an historic vote, the United Nations passed resolution A/69/L.76, which will raise the flags of non-member observer states with permanent status including Palestine and the Vatican. Obviously, the resolution was opposed by the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, and Tuvalu, but it was an even bigger surprise seeing Israel, the United States, Australia, and Canada vote no, as well. Despite opposition by these eight voting members, the resolution passed with 119 members in favor and 45 abstentions.  Most European Union members were among those abstaining, aside from France and Sweden who voted yes. Right after the resolution passed, Israel's Permanent Representative to the UN Ron Prosor claimed the Palestinian flag-raising is “a photo-op… to use the prestige of the U.N. as a backdrop for this charade.”  U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power offered an even bleaker statement, claiming that “no vote can turn an empty symbolic gesture into a state.” Indeed, the flag does not offer official statehood, but it is an official recognition of nationhood. And of course, no vote in the U.N. goes without several ambassadors issuing ever-so-diplomatic statements about the need for further negotiations and peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians—which have gone nowhere for twenty years. This seems like status quo for everyone else, but we at the Countdown team like the Palestinian flag waving.


Spheres of Influence

As a four and-a-half year civil war continues in Syria, Russian forces are setting up a military air base near the Syrian city of Latakia. Russia, a longtime Syrian ally and Assad supporter, has been airlifting supplies and weaponry into the coastal base.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russian personnel are training the Syrian army on how to use the military weaponry. Russian intervention is more than it first appears. Putin claims his country's efforts in Syria are about the fight against "terrorist aggression." However, Russia's involvement likely has more to do with a desire to maintain a hardened presence in the Middle East and to be ready for whatever may come next in Syria, including a post-Assad situation. With an increase in Russian forces on the line, the United States must devise a plan on what to do next. The Obama administration is considering military-to-military talks with Russia on their increased presence in Syria. However, getting involved in another American on-land intervention could lead to a fiery escalation on both ends. So, the United States repeatedly calls for Russia to join a U.S.-led coalition to destroy ISIL rather than taking unilateral actions which are proving to be increasingly problematic.