Posts Tagged ‘Syria’


The United States had a secret weapon in the war against Nazi Germany. Many of the best minds from Germany and occupied Europe fled fascist hatred and came to our shores.

Despite immigration restrictions, the United States took these refugees in, and they helped us to win the war. People such as Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller built the first atomic bomb and prepared American society to understand and defeat the enemy.

A similar process is at work today, especially in Texas.

Our state is filled with hardworking men and women who came to the United States for opportunity after fleeing repression in their countries of birth. These are many of the best students at our universities who make our society the most innovative in the world. These are the men and women we meet in our neighborhoods who understand the value of democracy and free enterprise better than many American-born citizens, because they experienced the pain of its absence before coming here.

Meeting the interpreter

One of us writing this piece, a veteran of the Iraq War, recently met his former interpreter, a Kurd, while shopping in a Texas supermarket. What could be more American?

Assim, the Kurdish interpreter, immigrated to the United States to escape the violence and hatred in Iraq. He brought valuable language and cultural skills to the United States, a strong work ethic, and a love for the promise of the American dream. Assim is one of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees who attest to the power of freedom and provide crucial assistance to our efforts to protect that freedom. We are all stronger, as Americans, for his presence and his patriotism.

We have always valued security and taken measures to screen and monitor recent arrivals, but we have also frequently voiced attitudes of racial, religious and ethnic intolerance, which we are hearing again today. Nonetheless, in every generation, from the Einsteins to the Kissingers and now to the Assims, these immigrants have been the engine for our innovation, growth and improvement.

Simply put, the United States will continue to prosper and defeat its enemies because it attracts freedom-loving people from around the world. That has been our source of success since Sam Houston came to Texas more than 180 years ago. The good guys have come to America to defeat the bad guys back in their old homes. And the good guys have won.

Balanced approach needed

Of course surveillance of potential terrorists and restrictions on immigration are necessary to protect against violent attacks on our society. But these legitimate actions must be balanced against the need to continue attracting talent to our communities. Much of that talent will come from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and other countries. Middle Eastern immigrants provide vital knowledge of the cultures and societies with which America interacts in our struggle to defeat violent extremism.

A plan that excludes all refugees from these areas diminishes our ability to defeat the people who most imperil our safety. If we do that, we will become a closed and fearful island rather than an open and innovative society.

As was true when fighting Nazi Germany, the refugees are our secret weapon for defeating the advocates of hate.

Imagine if the United States had not admitted Einstein or Fermi or Kissinger because they came from enemy countries and were not “good Christians.” American society would have been poorer and weaker because of such restrictions. We also would have had a harder time winning the Second World War, containing communism and generating the prosperity that has made America a world leader.

Openness, innovation and diversity are the historical recipe for freedom and success in the United States. They are the most potent weapons against all forms of hatred, violence and intolerance. We must emphasize our values in all of our policies, and we must stand against cowardly efforts to depart from who we are as Americans.

We are the society of Einstein, Fermi, Kissinger, Albright, Assim and so many other mixed recent arrivals. We are the frontier of change. We must bring the hungry, suffering and hard-working to our frontier, and we will always win.

Co-Authored with Liam Kozma (Master’s Student, LBJ School and Officer in the U.S. Army)

Originally published in the Houston Chronicle (19 November 2015).


The death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is the death of a Middle East generation that dominated the decades after the Second World War. It is a death that might prove more significant than the demise of communism, the rise of China, or the spread of terrorism. Gadhafi’s murder marks a separation from a recent past that, after years of familiarity, now seems unbelievably strange. We know we are in a decisively new political space for this reason: those who just months ago seemed destined to rule have quickly disintegrated into the dustbin of history.


Gadhafi’s Generation

Gadhafi’s four decades of rule in Libya were part of a common phenomenon across the Middle East. The articulate and impassioned child of poor citizens, Gadhafi drew popular support from a potent combination of nationalist chest-beating, religious revival, and promises of managed economic development. For societies emerging from colonialism and mired in poverty, charismatic prophets like Gadhafi were intoxicating. They turned the realities of postwar despair in the Middle East into a promise of strong independent states that embraced the modernity of new technologies as they remained true to ancient faiths. Gadhafi was the postcolonial answer to foreign dependency and neo-imperialism in Libya.

Gamal Abdel Nasser anticipated this role in nearby Egypt. Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad adapted the model to Iraq and Syria. The Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s and the zealotry of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were the high tide of what observers at the time viewed as an era of Middle East militant authoritarianism. Some saw it as a new fascism with Islamic characteristics.

Gadhafi and his fellow dictators rarely cooperated and they frequently went to war with one another. They each had delusions of regional dominance. They relied on the rhetoric, symbolism, and experience of perpetual war to boost their leadership and cower their critics. Gadhafi called himself a “colonel” because he claimed to fight side-by-side with his people in battle, and he threatened to destroy anyone who chose another side.


Prophets Become Criminals

Gadhafi played this game very well. His four decades in power (well beyond the average for rulers in any period or place) prove this point. He kept numerous internal, regional, and global enemies at bay. He enriched himself, his family, and his closest supporters. He became an international celebrity who fascinated observers with his eccentric behavior and rallied suffering people with his defiance of more powerful countries, especially the United States. Most people abhorred Gadhafi, but they respected his charismatic power. That was what made him so threatening, more than just a crazy dictator from a far away place.

The Libyan dictator outlasted Nasser, Assad, Khomeini, and Hussein. He was the last of a long postwar generation. His overthrow shows that the mix of nationalism, religion, and centralized development promised by that group of leaders is no longer persuasive to people in the Middle East. The prophets of the postwar era are the criminals of the twenty-first century. That is what the “Arab Spring” is all about.


What’s Next?

What will come next? There is no clear path to democracy in Libya and other Middle East societies. There are no obvious successor figures who can mobilize their societies around a coherent vision. There is no clear program for political renewal in the region.

The societies in the Middle East are, therefore, starting over. They are being reborn. Their futures are more uncertain and open than most people realize. The possibilities for both achievement and disaster are greater than since Nasser, Gadhafi, and others first came to power.


Openness and Basic Stability

What should the international community do? Amidst such uncertainty, and the tightening constraints on available resources, there are no simple answers. Massive infusions of aid and other forms of direct intervention are impractical and probably counter-productive in present circumstances.

The best route forward is one that encourages increased openness and some basic stability in Libya and other countries. The international community should promote and even modestly fund more outlets for debate in each Middle East country about the future of the region. Maximum political participation should be a goal. The greatest diversity of opinion should be our aim. New political programs will only emerge from a process like this.

To encourage basic stability, international efforts should focus on limiting violence in the region and building local institutions for adjudication of disputes. Citizens should feel safe as they debate their future. They should believe that they are involved with a fair political process. The United States and its allies should support the rule of law, not the rule of a particular party.


Modest Nation-Building

This modest program for the Middle East after Gadhafi can have real effects. The history of nation-building over the last two centuries confirms the utility of these measures. It also reminds us that in times of political transformation, focused attention and long-term investment are the best policy. Such wisdom can indeed turn Gadhafi’s death into a true moment of rebirth for the peoples of the Middle East.


This blog post originally appeared at

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About Jeremi Suri
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Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor in the University's Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Professor Suri is the author and editor of nine books on contemporary politics and foreign policy. Professor Suri's research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America's "Top Young Innovators" in the Arts and Sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media. Professor Suri is also a frequent public lecturer and guest on radio and television programs.