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The Refugees, the Europeans, and Us

A Syrian flag flies over the capital, Damascus,

A Syrian flag flies over the capital, Damascus, Syria, on Oct. 27, 2014. Photo Credit: AP / Diaa Hadid

The Obama administration never wanted to take the lead on the war in Syria. It hoped that, if we stayed out of the war, it wouldn't come to us. The wave of refugees now moving into Europe, and lapping at the shores of the United States, shows that assumption was wrong.

Germany already has received more than 100,000 asylum requests from Syrian refugees, and expects at least 800,000 applications this year. Europe, according to the United Nations, received 62,000 requests in August, and more than 425,000 this year. And there are more than three million Syrians in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Everyone who didn't want to get involved in Syria, including the Obama administration, owns the result: Not just refugees in the millions, but children drowning in the waves. And yet this administration claimed in 2011 that "preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States."

But this goes beyond refugees. We now have open Russian involvement, in league with Bashar al-Assad and Iran, in Syria. This might save Assad, but that will only raise the stakes in the struggle between Assad's Shia-led coalition, and the Sunnis in the so-called Islamic State group. The refugee crisis is merely a symptom of a worsening war.

President Barack Obama is reportedly considering whether he should meet with Russia's Vladimir Putin to discuss the war. Meanwhile, the Europeans are planning another meeting to haggle over how to handle the refugee crisis. Both meetings will achieve nothing of substance.

Putin wants Assad to survive. Unless America wants to go to war at Iran's side, that's a non-starter for us. And the Europeans, as usual, are all about burden-sharing in Europe, not shouldering a burden in Syria. They will never lead.

But as long as the refugees have a reason to flee Syria, many will end up in Europe. No European burden-sharing deal can change that. Only a secure zone in Syria that protects people from Assad and the Islamic State alike will give them a reason to stop walking.

We do not have a Syria policy. The administration's policy is not to have a policy. And that lack of policy has been disastrous: The administration has said enough to destroy our credibility, but not done enough to make a difference.

Despite repeated administration promises, we've trained only 60 Syrian opposition fighters, and now -- the administration admitted on Wednesday -- have only "four or five" in Syria. In 2013, we talked about getting rid of Assad's poisoned weapons, but he continues to use chlorine gas, and we continue to ignore it.

The administration claims the fight against the Islamic State is going well -- but more than 50 intelligence analysts have put their careers on the line by protesting that their assessments are being politically manipulated. The only constant here is the administration's wish that the Syrian problem would just go away. It won't.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, a group of 57 Islamic nations, has called for UN intervention against Assad. True, the UN isn't up to the job. But incredibly, the Islamic nations now are begging the West to act. Under Obama, we won't try to take a lead even when we're asked to.

We should never involve the United States just because we see horrible pictures on television. There is too much barbarity in the world for us to make policy by CNN. But without American leadership, based on the clear policy that Assad must go, his survival will be a victory for Iran, Syria will remain a failed state, and the fires that drive the refugees will continue to spread across the Middle East.

Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Thatcher Center for Freedom.