anti-semitism, elites, ISIS, liberals, libertarians, Marco Rubio, media, Middle East, neoconservatives, Obama, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Paris attacks, progressives, refugees, Syria, terrorism, The New York Times, World War II, xenophobia
If there are good arguments against hyper-cautious U.S. policies towards accepting Middle East refugees, I haven’t heard them yet. Instead, those urging lenient, “generous” approaches have simply supplied the latest burst of evidence that large percentages of America’s political and media elites, as well as other avowed progressives, neo-conservatives, and libertarians, have lost most of their common sense and even their instinct for self-preservation.
It’s also important to note that too many advocates of tighter restrictions for those fleeing the wars in Syria and Iraq and the Middle East’s general turmoil have taken butt-headed positions, too. (The main example – admitting only Christians.) But on balance, the restrictionists have been much more realistic than their opponents – whose ranks of course include President Obama.
I’d quote from his remarks on the subject earlier this week in Turkey but they were so narrow and shallow (focusing solely on that religious discrimination issue) that they’re easily dismissed. No better was the New York Times’ main editorial on refugees. Its writers – rightly seen as leading voices of what passes for American liberalism these days – endorsed Mr. Obama’s claim that the restrictionists were “betraying” American values. But they also accused the restrictionists (without naming them) of “confusing refugees with terrorists” and of “absurdly” portraying Muslims as “inherently dangerous,” thereby running the risk of validating terrorist propaganda about the Western world’s implacable hostility.
Most revealingly, it handled the crucial issue of vetting refugees streaming in large numbers from lands completely convulsed by chaos simply by scoffing at Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s concern that “you can have 1,000 people come in and 999 of them are just poor people fleeing oppression and violence, but one of them is an ISIS fighter.” Surely, The Times contended, “America can offer a smarter and more generous response.” But it seems that presenting specific recommendations would have meant exceeding space limits, since none were mentioned.
My perusal of the Mainstream and social media has turned up several prominent arguments for leniency that at least make a nod toward history and logic – but only in the most superficial and tendentious ways.
For example, one supposed “Aha!” point made by the lenience backers consists of citing polls from the 1930s indicating strong U.S. public opposition to admitting (often Jewish) refugees fleeing the Nazi-fication of Germany and outbreaks of similar persecution elsewhere in central and eastern Europe. Those past restrictionists unmistakably were motivated by anti-semitism and broader xenophobia. Therefore, imply the modern refugees’ avowed champions, so are today’s restrictionists.
But was the world of the 1930s threatened by anti-American Jewish- or other European-dominated terrorist groups? That’s news to me. One Facebook friend noted that (at least two) German spies had made it to the United Kingdom in December, 1940 disguised as refugees, suggesting that this kind of danger did exist.
But at that time, the U.K. had been at war and fully mobilized for more than a year. Normal peacetime transport between the continent and the British Isles was non-existent, the government was closely guarding the coast against spies and saboteurs, and whatever refugees who managed to leave (perhaps more heavily guarded) Germany, its allies, or occupied Europe, were few in number and easily identified. Indeed, the aforementioned spies came in a rowboat that was escorted to British shores by British forces. Such episodes are supposed to hold lessons for Americans today?
Others advocating for today’s refugees have noted that terrorists can also enter the United States as travelers using valid foreign or forged passports, and that threats can also come from domestic “lone wolves” and cells. All true. But are those observations supposed to demonstrate that there’s no point in vetting Middle East refugees today with the greatest care? That no vetting at all should take place? That today’s procedures should be loosened? If so, that’s tantamount to saying that since many crimes will never be prevented or solved, all law enforcement is pointless.
In fact, this kind of reasoning most plausibly buttresses the restrictionist argument. That is, it’s possible that some refugees or others in the Middle East and elsewhere who are politically inactive may be so enraged by restrictive U.S. and other Western policies that they wind up signing up with ISIS or similar groups. But the strength of these organizations makes clear that many other individuals in many countries have responded to many other terrorist recruiting pitches over many years. So why not use the greatest possible vetting prudence to at least boost the odds that dangerous extremists won’t cross American borders?
Of course, many supporters of lenience do agree that vetting is essential. Logically, this implies a confidence that the current system is satisfactory. But it’s difficult to see why this confidence is justified. It’s true that the current screening process is rigorous and protracted. It’s equally true, however, that significant numbers of Middle East refugees haven’t been admitted into the United States in the Age of ISIS. And although the United States has indeed safely admitted many such individuals previously, not until the latest round of Middle East conflicts had refugee numbers themselves reached flood-tide proportions.
Moreover, precisely because of these conflicts, today’s refugees present unusually difficult vetting challenges. As made clear even by Obama administration officials, the data needed to corroborate identity, criminal records, and other crucial details simply don’t exist or aren’t available.
Ironically, on the one hand, the detailed scrutiny refugees already receive makes clear that, under current U.S. procedures, there’s no chance of the country being flooded with large numbers any time soon. So unless these procedures are considerably eased, and/or American leaders decide to expand greatly the refugee numbers the nation has promised to take (currently “at least 10,000”), neither the threats feared by the restrictionists, nor the humanitarian relief desired by their opponents, will significantly increase any time soon.
But the ability of fewer than ten terrorists to turn Paris into a war zone for hours last week demonstrates that even overwhelming screening success may not prevent unacceptable danger. And the administration’s stated determination to bring all 10,000 Syrian refugees next year troublingly indicates a desire to expedite vetting, not reenforce it.
So anyone listening with intelligence and genuinely wanting maximum possible protection for the American people should recognize that most restrictionists are saying, “Better safe than sorry,” not urging completely closed doors. It’s also obvious that their critics don’t have a message remotely this responsible, or even coherent.