Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” Obama’s pal Rahm Emmanuel once famously remarked, adding that what he meant by that was “it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
The current mayor of Chicago’s dictum is the key to solving the Syrian refugee crisis and getting rid of ISIS and Assad in the bargain.
And, mirabile dictu, France is uniquely suited to lead the effort.
Instead of (grudgingly) granting migrant status to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees washing up on its shores, the European Union should draft them for military service — not in any European army, but in a newly organized Syrian Liberation Army.
The Syrian Liberation Army’s raison d’être would be to rid Syria of its numerous sectarian and secular tyrannies — starting with (but not limited to) ISIS, al Qaida, and Assad — and install a democratic government in Damascus.
While the Syrian Liberation Army would be sponsored and funded by the EU, it would be placed under the control of the French government. That’s because it would be modeled after that uniquely French institution, the Legion Etrangere, or the Foreign Legion, which would be put in charge of their training.
It would work like this: All male refugees of military age — and males of military age make up about 70 percent of the refugees — who arrive in the European Union by any means would immediately be conscripted into the Syrian Liberation Army. The length of their service would be for however long it takes to liberate Syria.
Once they have been sworn in they will be transported, along with their dependents, to the Island of Corsica, where the Foreign Legion is based, for training. This would keep the countries of the EU from being over-run with refugees and would make it clear to the refugees that they’ll be liberating Syria, not settling in Europe.
Training would be to Foreign Legion standards, which are rigorous to say the least. The Foreign Legion doesn’t spend a lot of time on spit and polish. It does spend a lot of time teaching its troops (to borrow a phrase from Mike Huckabee) how to kill people and break things. It also has a lot of hands on experience in turning malcontents into warriors.
The Legion also teaches its recruits how to speak French, which would also be done in the case of the Syrian Liberation Army. This is important because in order to ensure that the Syrian Liberation Army didn’t come apart at the seams like the U.S. trained Iraqi army did, it will be commanded by French officers, like the Foreign Legion is.
Syrian Liberation Army recruits would be taught something else as well — Western civics. Recruits would be drilled constantly in how democratic institutions work and how citizens of a democracy are required to behave if the democracy is to function. That includes the importance of free speech, the rule of law, and the separation of church and state, for openers.
This instruction is critical, because there wouldn’t be much point in enabling the refugees to shoot their way into Damascus if all they did was set up a new tyranny when they got there.
Special attention would be given to a democratic principle which is too often ignored in the West these days. That’s the concept of the loyal opposition, the idea that it is possible for you or your political faction to disagree with the government and the majority of your fellow citizens and still be loyal to the state. It’s the failure of people to understand this concept that explains why Iraq disintegrated after the U.S. withdrew and why so many attempts at nation-building in the Third World flop — and why American democracy is increasingly fraying around the edges.
When the Syrian Liberation Army was properly trained and armed, it would be returned to Syria in force and, with the support of European air power, sea power and logistics, get on with the job of liberating it.
The reason the current “refugee” problem in Europe is a problem is that the refugees are being treated as “migrants” instead of “exiles” who need assistance in reclaiming their country. Instead of being treated as hat-in-hand refugees they should be treated as exiles whose mission is to train for and participate in the liberation of Syria.
Of course once word got out about what migrants could expect when they got to Europe, chances are the flow would diminish — but those who did continue to come would be the ones interested in liberating Syria instead of abandoning it. Those are the ones Europe should be helping.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.