Ben Rhodes: Heck yeah, the U.S. is still planning to take Syrian refugees

Skip to 2:15 to watch Rhodes, responding to the news that one of the Paris bombers washed up onshore in Greece just six weeks ago, claim that it’s full speed ahead on the U.S. accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees of its own. The Democratic nominee-in-waiting said on Saturday night that she wants 65,000(!) refugees here, albeit “only if we have as careful a screening and vetting process as we can imagine.” That’s a mighty bold move by Democrats given that a majority of Americans already opposed admitting refugees back in September, with that number sure to rise now in the wake of the attack. And it goes without saying that if someone makes it over here via Obama’s refugee policy and promptly blows themselves up in Times Square, it’ll be night-night for Democrats in next year’s election. That’s a gigantic risk for O and Hillary to take. So why are they doing it?

Maybe they’re counting on the admissions process for refugees to last so long that no one makes it in until after the election.

Before a refugee even faces U.S. vetting, he or she must first clear an eligibility hurdle. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees — or occasionally a U.S. embassy or another NGO — determines which refugees (about 1 percent) should be resettled through its own process, which can take four to 10 months.

As we noted in a previous fact-check, once a case is referred from the UNHCR to the United States, a refugee undergoes a security clearance check that could take several rounds, an in-person interview, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, “cultural orientation” classes, and one final security clearance. This all happens before a refugee ever gets onto American soil…

For refugees from Syria and similar countries, however, the process can span two years, a spokesperson for the State Department told the Voice of America in September. Experts confirmed that two years is the average review duration for Syrian refugees, which means that some wait even longer.

If Hillary ends up on the hot seat for her refugee policy after she’s been inaugurated as president, well, she can live with that. In the meantime, Democrats have two important constituencies to satisfy. One is the European leadership, the other is their own progressive base. In both cases, for different reasons, those constituencies don’t want to see the White House embrace a more right-wing policy on refugees. If it does, the far right in Europe will use it to bludgeon Merkel over open borders (“even Obama knows this is madness!”) and the far left in the U.S. will shriek about the triumph of right-wing hysteria (“Obama caved to Ted Cruz!”). The safe play while this subject is in the post-Paris spotlight is to show resolve publicly while figuring out what to do next. If the refugee policy needs to be adjusted or abandoned altogether, it can be done with less political pain at a quieter moment later. The only surprise here is that Rhodes doesn’t offer some sort of “turning away refugees is what ISIS wants” defense, a variation of the standard you’re-playing-into-terrorists’-hands attack from both sides whenever counterterror policy is debated. Maybe ISIS really does want Europe to reject the refugees, forcing them back home where there’ll be either killed, radicalized, or conscripted into helping ISIS build the caliphate. Or maybe ISIS is playing the long game and wants Europe to accept lots of refugees, knowing that the larger Europe’s Muslim population grows, the more tension there’ll be between Europeans and their Muslim citizens and the more that will encourage radicalization among western Muslims. The only limit is your imagination when accusing a political opponent of falling into a strategic trap set by jihadists.

I’ve got a new question for Rhodes, though. How come we’re only bombing ISIS’s oil trucks now?

Intensifying pressure on the Islamic State, United States warplanes for the first time attacked hundreds of trucks on Monday that the extremist group has been using to smuggle the crude oil it has been producing in Syria, American officials said.

According to an initial assessment, 116 trucks were destroyed in the attack, which took place near Deir al-Zour, an area in eastern Syria that is controlled by the Islamic State…

Plans for the strike were developed well before the terrorist attacks in and around Paris on Friday, officials familiar with the operation said, part of a broader operation to disrupt the ability of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, to generate revenue to support its military operations and govern its territory.

People who read that are scratching their heads this morning, knowing that cutting an enemy state’s economic lifelines is one of the first things you do, if you’re able, in order to starve their troops of supplies. Why wasn’t this done sooner? Why weren’t the targets in Raqqa that were bombed to smithereens by the French yesterday bombed to smithereens months ago? What exactly is the U.S. doing in this air campaign against ISIS? If we’re holding back for fear of (further) radicalizing Sunnis on the ground there who might otherwise resist ISIS then we might as well cancel the mission and come home. If bombing is bad and not bombing is bad, let’s go with not bombing. It’s much cheaper and less dangerous to American servicemen. At least short-term.

Exit question: Is the correct answer to America’s refugee dilemma “it doesn’t matter what we do”? Entry into Europe is much easier for a terrorist turned “refugee” thanks to Merkel, and once you’ve gotten your papers there, the U.S. is just a short plane ride away.

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