Brown University's Gift to the Assad Regime

The Van Wickle Gates at Brown University (Yiming Chen/Contributor/Getty Images)

Is Brown University’s Costs of War Project laundering Syrian government talking points, or is the Assad regime taking advantage of Brown’s research?

A study issued last week by the project made the extraordinary claim that post-9/11 military action by the United States has created 37 million refugees — which is only the most conservative estimate, according to its authors.

While estimating the impact of U.S. military action is a worthy goal, the study’s authors simply blame American policymakers for the actions of their foreign counterparts. The siege of Aleppo, resulting in hundreds of thousands misplaced? That’s part of the U.S.’s tab. The displacement of 4.2 million people in Somalia? Attributable to the U.S. special operations forces there — all 400 of them.

At best, as this is an egregious miscount and a sloppy study. Worse, though, it provides cover to those responsible for refugee displacement not caused by the United States: Place significant responsibility on America for the millions displaced during the Syrian Civil War, not the Assad regime or Russia.

So it’s only natural that Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s U.N. ambassador, seized on the report during a meeting this week:

I would like to draw your attention to the report recently published by the British Guardian newspaper, citing research centers and academics in the United States. This report indicates that since 2001, the United States, under its so-called “The War on Terror,” has displaced 37 million people from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and others. So, who is creating crises in this case? And how can the Security Council maintain international peace and security while the Western Permanent Members make themselves an opponent and a judge at the same time?

Ja’afari is the face of a regime that has operated an industrial mass-slaughter system, defending his government with the aid of a report produced by Brown University and promoted by the New York Times and the Quincy Institute.

David Vine, the study’s author, told The American Conservative that he thinks “a lot of people in the U.S. and elsewhere haven’t reckoned with the full scope of destruction and damage these wars have wrought.” But as an attempt to force U.S. policymakers to re-evaluate their choices, the study is a failure.

There are a number of ways that proponents of a more restrained foreign policy could have attacked the U.S.’s post-9/11 wars. With public opinion on the Global War on Terror souring, they could possibly have made a valuable contribution to the conversation about the costs of war. All it would have taken is a well-designed study with comparably constrained parameters. It wouldn’t have yielded the same ridiculously-high number — but it still would have been an eye-catching figure. Instead, they opted for an ill-conceived political pamphlet intended to expose what Quincy’s executive vice president called “the blob.”

It makes one wonder if the study’s authors regret gifting legitimacy to the Assad regime, or if they see it as a necessity to stick it to the blob. Maybe they just don’t care.

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