Obama’s muddy Syria pol­icy led to refugee cri­sis, crit­ics say Pres­i­dent says U.S., other na­tions must do more

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

The White House ac­knowl­edged Tues­day that the U.S., along with other na­tions across the Mid­dle East and Europe, must do more to al­le­vi­ate the wors­en­ing Syr­ian refugee cri­sis — but that ad­mis­sion high­lights how the ad­min­is­tra­tion of­ten has seemed sev­eral steps be­hind as Syria sunk into chaos, a fact Repub­li­can crit­ics, fel­low Democrats and in­ter­na­tional lead­ers have pointed to in re­cent days and weeks.

Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said the State Depart­ment has be­gun a re­view of what steps the U.S. can take to aid in the cri­sis, which has seen more than 4 mil­lion Syr­i­ans flee their war-torn coun­try af­ter years of blood­shed.

Thus far the U.S. has taken in fewer than 2,000 Syr­ian refugees, and the White House on Tues­day would not guar­an­tee that more will be al­lowed onto Amer­i­can shores any­time in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture. It also would not of­fer any kind of timeline for when the State Depart­ment would com­plete its re­view, nor could it say the pres­i­dent legally would be able to ad­mit more refugees with­out con­sent from Congress.

Ger­many, by con­trast, will take in at least 800,000 Syr­ian refugees just this year.

Amid the out­stand­ing ques­tions, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is stress­ing that it has pro­vided more fi­nan­cial and hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to Syr­ian refugees than any other coun­try on earth.

But that type of as­sis­tance seems of lit­tle use to other world lead­ers who are grap­pling with one of the worst hu­man­i­tar­ian crises in re­cent mem­ory.

“Buy­ing your way out of this is not sat­is­fac­tory,” said Peter Suther­land, a United Na­tions of­fi­cial who over­sees in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion.

The cri­sis — il­lus­trated by chill­ing im­ages last week of a dead child who washed up on a Turk­ish beach af­ter his fam­ily tried to es­cape Syria and the sight of tens of thou­sands of mi­grants holed up in Euro­pean train sta­tions — has once again put the spotlight on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s broader pol­icy to­ward the re­gion, which is now un­der re­newed fire.

Pres­i­dent Obama in 2012 fa­mously warned Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad not to use chem­i­cal weapons in his fight against in­sur­gent rebels — a so-called “red line” that Mr. As­sad bla­tantly crossed.

The U.S. ul­ti­mately did not in­ter­vene mil­i­tar­ily, in­stead strik­ing a deal that re­quired Mr. As­sad to give up his chem­i­cal weapons stock­pile.

Since then, the coun­try has plunged deeper into chaos, with the rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ist group the Is­lamic State gain­ing a foothold across the coun­try. The ad­min­is­tra­tion, mean­while, has sought to ally it­self with mod­er­ate rebels fight­ing both the As­sad gov­ern­ment and the Is­lamic State, but the sit­u­a­tion on the ground has grown only more con­fused and vi­o­lent over the past sev­eral years de­spite steady U.S. airstrikes against Is­lamic State forces.

Repub­li­can crit­ics, in­clud­ing some 2016 GOP pres­i­den­tial con­tenders, now say the White House’s muddy pol­icy to­ward Syria has led di­rectly to the cur­rent cri­sis.

“I think that what’s hap­pened is that he has cre­ated a huge vac­uum,” for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney said on “Fox News Sun­day” ear­lier this week. “I think when the U.S. played a ma­jor role in the re­gion, it would have been much eas­ier to man­age this sit­u­a­tion.”

Florida Sen. Marco Ru­bio, a White House hope­ful, lobbed sim­i­lar crit­i­cism at the pres­i­dent last week, say­ing the pres­i­dent has been far too pas­sive and has al­lowed “this Syr­ian sit­u­a­tion to spi­ral out of con­trol.”

“And now you have this cri­sis threat­en­ing Europe with hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple seek­ing refuge from the hor­ri­fy­ing con­flict that’s go­ing on there,” he told Fox News.

But Repub­li­cans aren’t the only ones urg­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to rad­i­cally re­think its pol­icy.

In May, months be­fore the refugee cri­sis reached its cur­rent peak, a group of 14 Se­nate Democrats sent a let­ter to the pres­i­dent, urg­ing him to al­low at least 65,000 Syr­ian mi­grants into the U.S.

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