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July 12, 2016

Military Chiefs and National Security Experts Agree: America Must Lead in the Refugee Crisis

By Joe Jenkins

In a recent Miami Herald op-ed, two of the country’s most experienced and respected national security leaders made the case for American leadership in the world refugee crisis.

Michael Hayden (USAF, ret.), NSA director from 1999-2005 and CIA director from 2006-2009, along with Admiral James Stavridis (USN, ret.), Commander of U.S. Southern Command from 2006-2009 and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO from 2009-2013, urge America to do more for the millions of innocents fleeing conflict in their home countries every day.

And they’re not alone. In a statement of principles organized by Human Rights First last month, Hayden and Stavridis joined a roster of 32 prominent national security experts, retired military leaders, and former government officials to affirm the practical and moral rationale for an American-led effort to tackle the refugee issue.

Hayden and Stavridis present an impassioned argument: welcoming the persecuted and the destitute are core American ideals. In the wake of domestic terror events and growing nationalistic movements overseas challenging global unity, Hayden and Stavridis caution us to not give up this defining aspect of our national character. Reagan’s “shining city on the hill” must remain a safe harbor for those drawn to liberty.

But Hayden and Stavridis don’t just believe that welcoming refugees is right thing to do—they believe it’s necessary to ensure U.S. national security and global stability. We are now experiencing the worst refugee crisis in over 70 years. Tens of millions are displaced around the globe. Five million have fled Syria alone. The burden placed on nations like Jordan and Turkey is immense, threatening the stability of our allies and our ability to protect our national interests in the Middle East.

While the United States has made progress in its goal to settle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, Hayden and Stavridis believe that we should be doing much, much more. Their opinion echoes other experts that say the United States should rethink its resettlement goals—we currently take in only 7 percent of our fair share of Syrian refugees, according to Oxfam.

To Hayden and Stavridis, there is no national security counter-argument when it comes to refugees, despite the heated rhetoric around the issue. They dispel the common talking point that refugee resettlement poses a security threat by giving our enemies an avenue to infiltrate the country. In reality, refugees are the most vetted of any entrants into the United States. They are screened by multiple agencies—before they arrive in the United States—during a process that typically takes 18-24 months.

The pair also warn us of how anti-refugee sentiment helps our enemies. While ISIS and other terror organizations don’t even represent a tiny fraction of the 1.6 billion Muslims living in the world, their propaganda seeks to turn the Islamic world against the west. Hayden and Stavridis urges not to validate this propaganda by calling to close America’s borders to Muslim immigrants and refugees. We have an opportunity to strike back with the truth: Muslim refugees are often the victims of terror, and the United States is willing to help. Now, Hayden and Stavridis challenge us to rally the political will to make it happen.

In September, President Obama will convene a leader’s summit on refugees on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. There, we will likely hear again what our military leadership and national security experts have been saying for some time. General Hayden, Admiral Stavridis, and the rest know exactly what must be done. They’ve spent their entire lives doing it. We must take charge, and we must lead. We must welcome refugees.