Angelina Jolie, UN goodwill ambassador, has a column today in the Washington Post, Staying to Help in Iraq. She begins:
The request is familiar to American ears: “Bring them home.”But in Iraq, where I’ve just met with American and Iraqi leaders, the phrase carries a different meaning. It does not refer to the departure of U.S. troops, but to the return of the millions of innocent Iraqis who have been driven out of their homes and, in many cases, out of the country.
Using UN numbers, which are the ones we’ve used, she says there are more than 2 million Iraqis displaced within their country plus another 2.5 million who have fled Iraq.
I’m not a security expert, but it doesn’t take one to see that Syria and Jordan are carrying an unsustainable burden. They have been excellent hosts, but we can’t expect them to care for millions of poor Iraqis indefinitely and without assistance from the U.S. or others. One-sixth of Jordan’s population today is Iraqi refugees. The large burden is already causing tension internally.
What’s especially interesting is that Jolie understands that the solution lies entirely in finding a way for the refugees to return home, unlike the agencies that think we should bring as many as possible to the U.S. When you look at the immense number of refugees you’d have to be crazy to think that bringing some tens of thousands here would solve anything.
The Iraqi families I’ve met on my trips to the region are proud and resilient. They don’t want anything from us other than the chance to return to their homes — or, where those homes have been bombed to the ground or occupied by squatters, to build new ones and get back to their lives. One thing is certain: It will be quite a while before Iraq is ready to absorb more than 4 million refugees and displaced people. But it is not too early to start working on solutions. And last week, there were signs of progress.
General Petraeus says he will support new efforts to end the humanitarian crisis. The Iraqi government is taking action. And the UN is providing humanitarian relief. Jolie continues:
My visit left me even more deeply convinced that we not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis.
…In fact, we should step up our financial and material assistance. UNHCR has appealed for $261 million this year to provide for refugees and internally displaced persons. That is not a small amount of money — but it is less than the U.S. spends each day to fight the war in Iraq. I would like to call on each of the presidential candidates and congressional leaders to announce a comprehensive refugee plan with a specific timeline and budget as part of their Iraq strategy.
I’ve got to admire Angelina Jolie, even though she’s a celebrity and on principle I don’t like celebrities. She’s put in some time and learned some things and doesn’t seem a bit silly. The only thing I disagree with her on is her wish that the U.S. should give money to the UN to take care of the refugees. The UN is great at wasting money. Can’t we find a way to help the Iraqi refugees directly, without using the UN as an intermediary? The Iraqi government is said to be corrupt, so we’d probably be wasting money by giving it to them directly.
Here’s an idea: Why don’t we mount a campaign to build hundreds of thousands of houses in Iraq for the refugees? We could pressure other countries to donate money to help. Our armed forces have good relationships with Iraqis all over the country, who could help figure out where the houses should be built. We’d be providing employment and training for Iraqis. We could send over construction experts and construction workers who are suffering from the homebuilding slowdown here at home to work with the Iraqis.
But such an idea will never become reality. The UN needs its cut. The volags need their business. The Democrats wouldn’t like to pay government money to builders (who probably vote Republican) or to act outside international organizations. Some of them might not even like to see Iraq become a stable place while a Republican is in the White House.
Here’s how the article ends:
As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.
It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.
Angelina is a lot more sensible than some of our politicians.
Note from Ann: State Dept. announced just this past week that big bucks are going to the United Nations.