I remember my grandfather, Joe Murphy, while still editor-at-large of the Pacific Daily News, oft telling the story of his failed attempts to sell an article about the Kurds being airlifted to Guam during the Clinton administration, and my grandfather’s disgust because no major media outlet was interested in the story. Maybe George Packer read it?
[Kurds being processed at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 1996]
In the fall of 1996, the U.S. military evacuated more than six thousand Iraqis—Kurds and others who had worked with American agencies in the north, and whose lives were directly threatened by Saddam’s army—halfway across the world to Guam. There they were screened, processed for asylum, and assigned sponsors in an effort that involved more than a thousand American soldiers and civilians. Almost all of the evacuees ended up Stateside within seven months. Major General John Dallager, the Joint Task Force commander of Operation Pacific Haven, said, “Our success will undoubtedly be a role model for future humanitarian efforts.”
Undoubtedly. Major General Dallager didn’t count on the moral abdication of the Bush Administration in the face of a similar but much larger and more compelling humanitarian crisis. Recently, some conscience-stricken American officials have privately begun to ask why the model of Operation Pacific Haven can’t be emulated today. Flying Iraqis to Guam would solve every problem, real and invented, that the Administration claims is holding up resettlement: the inability of Homeland Security interviewers to meet with refugees in Syria; the near-impossibility of Iraqis getting into neighboring countries; the supposed security concerns that prevent the U.S. from screening Iraqis inside Iraq. With the Guam option, none of this would matter.
[Sinajana, Guam in 1945 ]
Mr. Packer wants President-elect Obama to at least consider the Guam option for Iraqi refugees:
I know Iraqi refugees are somewhere around 87th on anyone’s agenda. I know I should be writing about Gaza or economic stimulus—another day. But today, let me call your attention away from those pressing matters to a new report, scheduled for release on Monday, by Natalie Ondiak and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress (soon to be the Obama Administration’s Heritage or A.E.I.). It’s called “Operation Safe Haven Iraq 2009,” and it’s a detailed proposal for an airlift of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have worked with Americans there and whose lives are in danger, in perpetuum, as a result.
The report establishes the rationale for such an operation, familiar to readers of this blog (where the “Guam option” was first proposed over a year ago). It also lays out, in the careful manner of Washington think-tank papers, the steps that the new President would need to take, to wit:
1. Appoint a White House coordinator
2. Review current efforts
3. Finish background checks of qualified Iraqis
4. Begin a four-to-eight-week airlift, probably to Guam
5. Make sure all government agencies—State, Homeland Security, the military—work together
6. Resettle eligible Iraqis here after they’ve been “processed” outside the country