November 30, 2015 | Commentary on Syria, President Barack Obama, Terrorism, Foreign Aid and Development

Whose values is Barack Obama promoting in Syria?

The most serious problem with the Syrian refugees isn't that they'll bring terrorists with them. It's the war in Syria that made them refugees in the first place.

President Barack Obama claims we have to admit refugees if we are to live up to our values. But he's the one who's sat on his hands as Syria burned.

It's banal to say that concerns about terrorism are serious. Of course they're serious. What hasn't been serious is the president's response to those concerns. Obama's argument that refugees from war-torn Syria are no different from "all the tourists who pour into the United States every single day" is folly.

Before tourists arrive, we know who the overwhelming share of them are. They are screened in advance by the FBI, the State Department and Homeland Security. We will know far less about the refugees -- a majority of whom lack documentation -- so we cannot screen them in the same way. The administration, with Congress, is therefore responsible for devising an effective system. Simply assuring everyone that all is well is completely wrong.

But there are easier ways to attack the United States than through a slow-moving refugee program. And most of the terrorist plots inside the United States in 2015 were homegrown. We are completely within our rights to ensure that the so-called Islamic State group does not take advantage of our generosity, but radical Islam has shown that it does not need refugees to cross borders.

What really disturbs me about the refugees is Obama's claim that "slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values." Where were those values when Syria's Bashar Assad was dropping barrel bombs on the Syrians? Where have they been as ISIS attacks the ancient city of Palmyra with bulldozers? Where were they when ISIS killed Yazidi men and sold the women into sexual slavery?

For the past four years, the administration's policy on Syria has been defined by a cold, calculated, brutal refusal to have a policy. It never got serious about training Syrian rebels and then blamed everyone but itself when its feeble efforts failed.

Its air campaign against ISIS is hobbled by the president's demand that "zero" civilians be harmed. Obama issued his infamous red line against Syria's use of poison gas in 2012, but U.S. officials have recently confirmed -- again -- that the regime continues to use mustard gas routinely.

The president talks about "our values." But strangely, "our values" only come into play when Obama can use them to beat up on his domestic critics.

When it comes to actually defending helpless people, he looks the other way and accuses critics of "posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership."

For Obama, American leadership is about apologizing or proving we're not so terrible, after all. From the Russian reset to his outreach to Iran to the Syrian refugees, his foreign policy is to smile into the mirror to prove we're nice guys. But he's not seeing the problem; he's only looking at himself.

Obama now claims that, if we don't admit the refugees, we're just helping ISIS. That's par for the course. For him, the biggest problem is always us. As he put it last Sunday, "the most powerful tool" we have to fight ISIS is not buying "into their fantasy that they're doing something important."

But ISIS bombed Paris. It is driving millions of refugees before it. It is slaughtering or enslaving all who refuse to submit. Those are important things. And the president has done nothing but wring his hands about them.

Before he gives us another lecture on our values, he should check his own.

-Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Thatcher Center for Freedom

About the Author

Theodore R. Bromund, Ph.D. Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

This piece was first featured on Real Clear Politics