Europe stood by and watched the mess grow out of control, and now it's Europe's responsibility to fix it.
For a continent filled with armchair critics of U.S. foreign policy, Europe has spectacularly failed to take a leadership role in its own backyard. Its leaders have ignored power vacuums in places like Libya and turned a blind eye to a civil war in Syria that has given rise to ISIS and a lifetime's worth of human rights tragedies.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of refugees are pouring into European countries, escaping hellish conditions that most European leaders were happy to ignore until they could no longer claim ignorance: Most agree that point came when news agencies around the world published heartbreaking photos of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee, lying lifeless and face-down on a Turkish beach.
Ayan died when a 15-foot boat taking his family from Turkey to the Greek islands capsized because it was carrying too many passengers. For months, Greece had been begging the EU for help dealing with an estimated 10,000 refugees crossing the Aegean every day, and for months EU leaders did nothing.
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See a pattern here?
European leaders decided on a plan of action that can best be summed up as plugging their fingers into their ears, closing their eyes and pretending the chaos in Syria and Libya wasn't happening. Now they've adjusted their strategy -- they're still sitting there, fingers in ears, eyes closed, but this time they're ignoring the tidal wave of humanity crashing onto European shores.
The crisis has moved past the point of debate over whether to welcome refugees. They're in Europe, and thousands more arrive every day.
Unbelievably, Europe still doesn't have a cohesive plan or protocol for dealing with refugees, absorbing them into EU countries, and helping them settle in for the long term. European leaders left a conference in Brussels on Jan. 19 after failing -- again -- to outline a path to solving the refugee crisis.
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For refugees, that means their fates largely depend on where they end up. They won't find welcome in Hungary, where they're greeted by a massive razor-wire fence and border guards ready to pepper spray anyone trying to scale the barrier. Many found welcome in Germany -- and cheered German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- but may regret that decision now that a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment has seized the country, resulting in armed gangs attacking Muslims in cities like Cologne and Leipzig. In other countries, refugees face uncertainty about their legal status and their long-term prospects.
It's time for Europe to prove it can handle a crisis without U.S. leadership. It's time for the EU to come up with a comprehensive plan for dealing with refugees, and that includes pooling resources to make sure the burden is shared equitably, and not shouldered by countries with porous borders that happen to be the easiest destinations for people escaping war.
The problem has moved beyond political solutions, and demands practical steps to prevent things from getting even worse. That means coming up with logistical plans for transport and relocation, appropriating resources to help poorer EU countries deal with the influx of refugees, and developing real strategies to settle asylum-seekers in real homes, not refugee camps and ghettos.
How do you feed, clothe and employ hundreds of thousands of new citizens? It's a daunting challenge, and it's going to require strong leadership.
In an interview with The New York Review of Books, billionaire investor George Soros said Europe must stop "kicking a ball uphill so that it keeps rolling back down," and address the root causes of the crisis. Soros described the EU as "on the verge of collapse."
"Merkel correctly foresaw the potential of the migration crisis to destroy the European Union," Soros said. "What was a prediction has become the reality. The European Union badly needs fixing."