Obama flips his pol­icy for Mus­lim coun­tries Bashed Bush on Dubai Ports deal

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Pres­i­dent Obama’s ris­ing in­dig­na­tion at op­po­nents of his open-door Syr­ian refugee pol­icy is all the more strik­ing be­cause a decade ago he was one of those op­po­nents, chastis­ing then-Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush for try­ing to speed through a deal to trans­fer oper­a­tions of ma­jor U.S. ports to a com­pany from a pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­try.

Then-Sen. Obama ac­cused Mr. Bush of ig­nor­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns in push­ing the Dubai Ports deal, and Mr. Bush com­plained that his crit­ics were really be­ing anti-Mus­lim — just as Mr. Obama, re­spond­ing to se­cu­rity wor­ries over his Syr­ian pro­gram, now ac­cuses crit­ics of thinly veiled Is­lam­o­pho­bia.

Mr. Obama on Wed­nes­day is­sued a stern veto threat, just as Mr. Bush did in 2006, telling Congress to butt out of a process to vet po­ten­tial Syr­ian refugees that he says is al­ready work­ing and doesn’t need med­dling from Capi­tol Hill.

“Given the lives at stake and the crit­i­cal im­por­tance to our part­ners in the Mid­dle East and Europe of Amer­i­can lead­er­ship in ad­dress­ing the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis, if the pres­i­dent were pre­sented with [leg­is­la­tion], he would veto the bill,” the White House said in a mes­sage to Congress.

On Thurs­day, dis­trust with Mr. Obama’s ap­proach to ter­ror­ism boiled over as a bi­par­ti­san House voted over­whelm­ingly to “pause” his plans to re­set­tle 10,000 Syr­ian refugees in the U.S. this year. Nearly four dozen Democrats joined Repub­li­cans to defy a White House veto threat and pass the bill, which siphons fi­nal de­ci­sion-making pow­ers over refugee ad­mis­sions from Mr. Obama’s con­trol and in­stead re­quires the chiefs of the FBI, Home­land Se­cu­rity and na­tional in­tel­li­gence — all con­gres­sion­ally con­firmed po­si­tions — to per­son­ally vouch for each refugee.

The vote proved an em­bar­rass­ment for Mr. Obama. While trav­el­ing in Asia, he ex­horted Capi­tol Hill to “set­tle down” and ac­cused law­mak­ers of be­ing anti-Mus­lim and lack­ing com­pas­sion. But he ap­peared to have over­stepped, as even many Democrats called the mod­est re­stric­tions rea­son­able pre­cau­tions to try to keep ter­ror­ists from ex­ploit­ing U.S. gen­eros­ity.

Last week’s ter­ror­ist at­tack in Paris has raised the stakes on the refugees, with one of the sui­cide bombers sus­pected of gain­ing en­try to the Euro­pean Union by min­gling with the hordes flee­ing Syria’s bru­tal civil war, land­ing on an is­land in Greece with a false Syr­ian pass­port and us­ing his refugee sta­tus to travel to France.

Repub­li­cans say they fear a sim­i­lar at­tack here, point­ing to state­ments from the Is­lamic State that the ji­hadi group wants to use the refugee pro­gram to per­pe­trate at­tacks on the U.S. And they say the FBI has ad­mit­ted it can’t be sure it can ver­ify the iden­tity of refugees be­cause it doesn’t have ac­cess to records on the ground in Syria to check ap­pli­cants’ sto­ries.

Fears were stoked again Wed­nes­day when po­lice in Hon­duras de­tained five Syr­ian men they said were us­ing stolen Greek pass­ports and were try­ing to reach the U.S., ac­cord­ing to press re­ports out of the Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­try.

A new poll, mean­while, showed a siz­able ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans want to stop the re­set­tle­ment of Syr­ian refugees. The Bloomberg Pol­i­tics na­tional poll found just 28 per­cent of vot­ers wanted to keep the pro­gram in­tact, while 53 per­cent fa­vor a to­tal freeze and an­other 11 per­cent would ac­cept only Chris­tian refugees but ex­clude Mus­lims.

Mr. Obama has called that sort of pick­ing and choos­ing “shame­ful,” and ac­cused his crit­ics of alien­at­ing Mus­lims and feed­ing into the nar­ra­tive Is­lamic State is push­ing of a war be­tween Is­lam and the West.

It’s sim­i­lar to the ar­gu­ment Mr. Bush used in 2006 when he faced crit­i­cism over ap­prov­ing a deal to al­low Dubai Ports World, a com­pany based in the United Arab Emi­rates, to run oper­a­tions at ma­jor U.S. ports. Five years re­moved from the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks, and at a time when the U.S. was strug­gling to quell sec­tar­ian violence in Iraq, the port deal drew ve­he­ment bi­par­ti­san op­po­si­tion on Capi­tol Hill.

“I can­not think of a more po­tent re­cruit­ment tool for [the Is­lamic State] than some of the rhetoric that’s been com­ing out of here dur­ing the course of this de­bate,” Mr. Obama said Wed­nes­day while trav­el­ing over­seas at a sum­mit in Manila in the Philip­pines.

It’s a ma­jor change from early 2006, when Mr. Obama, then a first-term Illi­nois se­na­tor con­tem­plat­ing a run for the White House, com­plained that Mr. Bush had skipped key se­cu­rity checks in ap­prov­ing the port deal, and was go­ing too far in ques­tion­ing crit­ics’ racial mo­tives.

“Pres­i­dent Bush has dis­missed crit­i­cism of this deal as be­ing ei­ther po­lit­i­cally or racially mo­ti­vated. This re­ac­tion misses the es­sen­tial point. Clearly, more time should have been spent in­ves­ti­gat­ing this trans­ac­tion and con­sult­ing with home­land se­cu­rity ex­perts and lo­cal of­fi­cials about its po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions for our na­tional se­cu­rity,” Mr. Obama said in a let­ter to con­stituents at the time.

The White House did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on Mr. Obama’s jux­ta­po­si­tion, but Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials found the re­ver­sal amus­ing.

“It’s ironic that Pres­i­dent Obama is tak­ing a po­si­tion that is to­tally at odds with one he had just nine years ago when Ge­orge Bush was in of­fice. And he’s even us­ing the same rhetoric that Pres­i­dent Bush de­ployed against his crit­ics,” said Matt La­timer, a for­mer Bush speech­writer.

Mr. Obama this week has tried to rally refugee and im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates to his de­fense, say­ing the U.S. has a moral obli­ga­tion to take some of the mil­lions of refugees who have fled a bru­tal civil war in Syria that the pres­i­dent has been un­able to stop.

He says that the cur­rent U.S. process for re­view­ing Syr­ian refugees is the strictest in the world, in­volv­ing an in-per­son in­ter­view with Home­land Se­cu­rity and a check through U.S. gov­ern­ment data­bases and what­ever over­seas re­sources are avail­able.

But given the chaos in Syria and the ex­pand­ing ter­ror­ist reach of Is­lamic State, it’s those over­seas re­sources that are in ques­tion now.

FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey has said there are “gaps” in the vet­ting pro­ce­dures, be­cause the U.S. doesn’t have ac­cess to Syr­ian data­bases, nor can it eas­ily get to the neigh­bor­hoods to check back­ground sto­ries on the ground.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say they make the best de­ci­sions with the in­for­ma­tion they’ve got, and the White House said that none of the 2,174 Syr­ian refugees who have been ad­mit­ted to the U.S. since 2001 have been “ar­rested or de­ported on ter­ror­ism­re­lated grounds.”

Mr. Obama is talk­ing about boost­ing that num­ber five­fold in the cur­rent year alone.

The House bill would not stop refugees, but would re­quire Mr. Comey, Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son and Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James R. Clap­per to sign off on each one.

The bill’s au­thors said the goal is to bring ac­count­abil­ity so peo­ple know they are on the line when making the de­ci­sions.

“It puts the re­spon­si­bil­ity on them,” said House Com­mit­tee on Home­land Se­cu­rity Chair­man Michael T. McCaul, Texas Repub­li­can. “This bill will not al­low any refugee in un­til we’re con­vinced the vet­ting process and the back­ground checks are done suf­fi­ciently to pro­tect the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

The bill does not go far enough for some con­ser­va­tives, who said they want to see a com­plete halt of the refugee pro­gram, and who crit­i­cized Repub­li­can lead­ers for al­low­ing it to con­tinue at all. At least 31 states, vir­tu­ally all with Repub­li­can gov­er­nors, have also said they would not ac­cept Syr­ian refugees un­der the cur­rent fed­eral pro­gram.

The White House, though, said ac­tu­ally cer­ti­fy­ing each refugee’s se­cu­rity checks was “un­ten­able.”

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