Nevertheless, the president is right that the debate over accepting Syrian refugees is also “potent recruitment tool” for ISIS. The overblown fears of the threat Syrian refugees may pose plays into the narrative ISIS pushes as it seeks to impose a caliphate on the Middle East and the world. Worse, it works toward erasing years, and decades, of good work. The U.S. accepts about 70,000 refugees a year. In 1980, that number was 207,000, a record high. Since 9/11, the U.S. has accepted 750,000 refugees, including tens of thousands from countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, where U.S. interventions contributed to instability and helped foster the conditions for radical Islamist groups to gain power. ISIS took advantage of the vacuum the Iraq war created in Iraq, while the 2007 U.S.-Kenyan intervention in Somalia ousted the Islamic Court Union. Al-Shabaab, now the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, was formed in the aftermath of that intervention. None of the refugees from those countries, or from any other country, have committed an act of terrorism, not since 9/11, not since 1980.
On the other hand, the U.S. decision, belated as it was, to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, can be a powerful recruitment tool against ISIS. Mercy is an important component of Islam as well as Christianity. Obama is no secret Muslim, and the U.S. is a country that separates church and state even if its leaders focus on its “Judaeo-Christian” roots. Showing mercy in a way “stewards” of Islam like Saudi Arabia (Syrian refugees accepted = zero) or self-proclaimed standards like ISIS (which has created countless refugees) speaks louder than any catch phrases about American leadership. And for Republicans worried about the U.S. becoming a “post-Christian” nation, accepting Syrian refugees would be a powerful message that Christian (and secular!) values like mercy still matter for Americans.